Government of Croatia
Dear Prime Minister Racan:
Human Rights Watch welcomes the recent decision by the Croatian government to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the arrest and surrender to the tribunal of two Croatian citizens covered by sealed indictments.
The transfer of the two indictees is firmly mandated by international law, as part of Croatia's overall obligation to cooperate with the tribunal. As I am sure you are aware, the tribunal was created in 1993 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 827, which obliged all U.N. member states to "cooperate fully" with the tribunal and "take any measures necessary under their domestic law" to comply with its demands. The U.N. Charter's Article 25, in turn, obliges member states to implement Security Council decisions. Various other Security Council resolutions also require Croatia to cooperation with the tribunal, including resolution 1247 (June 18, 1999), resolution 1305 (June 21, 2000), and resolution 1329 (December 5, 2000).
Research conducted by Human Rights Watch and other organizations has established that members of the Croatian Army perpetrated abuses against Serbian civilians and conducted a "scorched earth" policy during its offensive in the Medak pocket, in September 1993. We also found that during offensive Oluja (Storm), in August 1995, Croatian military bombed retreating Serb civilians and soldiers, and, after the offensive, destroyed villages and property and summarily executed elderly and infirm Serbs who remained behind. As with all war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, individual accountability for these crimes is necessary to honor the victims and satisfy the basic requirement of international justice.
The recent transfer of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague also underscores that all countries are expected to cooperate with the tribunal and makes it particularly important that other governments in the region do so, as your government has appropriately committed to doing.
Human Rights Watch also wishes to stress that, as you are aware, but members of the Croat public may not be, the tribunal does not seek to assess the responsibility of the Croatian people, or the decision by the Croats to engage in hostilities, but focuses on particular conduct during the hostilities and the role of particular members of the military in sanctioning or failing to redress that conduct, based on well-established international standards.
Human Rights Watch also applauds the efforts of the Croatian authorities to bring other war crimes suspects to justice, as exemplified by the local proceedings against General Mirko Norac and four other suspects, who are charged with war crimes in connection with the killings of two groups of Serb civilians in Gospic in October 1991. We urge continued support for those efforts. Only through such steps toward accountability can Croatia confirm its democratic transition and prospects for European integration.
Europe and Central Asia Division
International Justice Program