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High Drama as Hague Tribunal Winds Down

Dutch authorities investigate a defendant’s televised suicide during an appeal hearing on war crimes in Bosnia. 

30 November 2017

As the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia concluded its final case on Wednesday, defendant Slobodan Praljak took a fatal dose of poison after the judges upheld his conviction for war crimes, The Guardian reports.


“Praljak is not a criminal. I reject your verdict,” Praljak shouted on the televised recording of the hearing in The Hague. “I just drank poison …”


Praljak and the five other Bosnian Croat defendants appealed their convictions for war crimes during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.


The judges upheld all the convictions while allowing parts of their appeals. Praljak was serving a 20-year sentence for crimes against humanity committed while commanding Bosnian Croat forces. His crimes included implementing a system of forced deportation of the Bosniak population from a small Croatian entity – which included concentration camps, murder, torture, infliction of terror on civilians and the use of detainees as slave labor and human shields, Georgia State University political science professor Jelena Subotic wrote in a commentary for Balkan Insight.



Praljak, 72, drank from a small brown vial after the judges read their decision on his appeal and was immediately taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after. It is unclear how he managed to bring poison into the high-security courtroom. Dutch authorities have opened an investigation into his death, the BBC reports.


Toma Fila, a Serbian lawyer who has frequently worked cases at the Hague tribunal, told the Guardian it would not be so difficult to bring poison into the court. “They inspect metal objects, like belts, metal money, shoes, and take away mobile phones,” but “pills and small quantities of liquids” could go undetected, he said.


According to Reuters, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic issued a statement in support of Praljak saying, “His act tells the most about deep ethical injustice toward the six Bosnian Croats and the Croatian people.”


Plenkovic chairs the Croatian Democratic Union, the party of Franjo Tudjman, the country’s leader during the 1990s conflicts against Bosnia and Serbia.


The ICTY also upheld the convictions of Praljak’s five co-conspirators in the forced deportations. They confirmed the 25-year sentence given the former political leader of the Croatian statelet, Jadranko Prlic, and the 20-year term for its defense chief, Bruno Stojic.



  • Praljak’s suicide was not the first to occur during the Yugoslav war crimes trials at The Hague. Two defendants committed suicide in their cells under ICTY custody – Croatian Serbs Slavko Dokmanovic in 1998 and Milan Babic in 2006. The court’s most famous prisoner, former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, died of heart failure in 2006 before his trial could be completed.


  • The Croatian parliament was suspended on Wednesday so that lawmakers could follow the appeals hearing, and nearly a thousand Bosnian Croats gathered in a Mostar square to light candles in support of Praljak.


  • Praljak’s melodramatic suicide is likely to fuel a resurgence of conspiracy theories about the deaths of suspects while in custody and rumors about Milosevic’s death. He will “most certainly” become a “Croat martyr” of the far right, writes Subotic, author of a book on the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars.

Compiled by Claudia Harmata

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