[JURIST] The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [official website] on Friday overturned the convictions of two Croat generals for crimes against humanity and war crimes against Serb civilians committed during a 1995 military blitz. The five-judge appeals chamber ordered the immediate release [press release] of Ante Gotovina [BBC profile] and Mladen Markac, who were found guilty [judgment, PDF] in 2011 of crimes that included murder and illegally expelling Serb citizens as part of a criminal conspiracy. The appellate judges found that the trial chamber erred in multiple findings, most notably that prosecutors did not prove the existence of a criminal conspiracy, clearing Croatia’s wartime leadership of war crimes in the 1990s operation known as Operation Storm. The 3-2 decision is one of the most significant reversals in The Hague-based court’s 18-year history. Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanovic [official profile] said the ruling was “an important moment for Croatia” and proves that Operation Storm was a just war rather than an ethnic cleansing of Serbs.
Gotovina and Markac were originally found guilty of charges including murder, plunder, persecution and deportation in 2011, and were sentenced to 24 and 18 years respectively. The ICTY began the trial [JURIST report] of Gotovina and Markac, along with Croatian militant commander Ivan Cermak, in 2008. Gotovina was indicted in 2001 and was the third most-wanted ICTY war crimes suspect until his arrest [JURIST report] in 2005 in Spain’s Canary Islands. Established as an ad hoc tribunal, the ICTY was the first war crimes court created by the UN, and it opened its final trial [JURIST report] last month.