Bosnian Croat ex-General Slobodan Praljak Dies in the Hague After Drinking Poison in Court, Yelling "I'm not a War Criminal!"
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague itself became a crime scene on Wednesday when a convicted war criminal committed suicide with poison he had smuggled into the courtroom.
Slobodan Praljak, a commander of Croat forces during the 1990s war in Bosnia, swigged poison from a flask moments after a panel of appeals judges upheld his 20 year sentence for war crimes on Wednesday morning.
He was pronounced dead two hours later. Dutch police declared the courtroom a crime scene and have opened an investigation.
Praljak, 72, was jailed in 2013 for his role in war crimes including a massacre of civilians in central Bosnia and the deliberate destruction of Mostar bridge during the siege of the city by Croatian forces in 1993.
He committed suicide when Carmel Agius, the presiding judge, read out a verdict rejecting his appeal.
Refusing to sit, he said: “Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. With disdain, I reject this verdict.”
Ignoring a request to sit down, he swigged from what appeared to be a small flask and announced: “What I drank was poison.”
Judge Agius immediately suspended proceedings and called a doctor while Praljak’s lawyer shouted “my client says he has taken poison!”
An ambulance was called and Praljak was reported to be receiving medical treatment before his death was confirmed in the early afternoon.
It is unclear how he managed to smuggle poison into the courtroom. Dutch Police have opened a criminal investigation.
Praljak was in court to hear the result of a joint appeal he and five other senior figures in the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), the Bosnian-Croat force in the 1992-1995 war, had lodged against convictions for war crimes.
The court upheld convictions against all six men, including a 25-year sentence imposed on Jadranko Prlic, the former prime minister of the breakaway Bosnian Croat state known as Herzog-Bosna.
Praljak, who was commander of the HVO main staff in the war, was appealing convictions on multiple charges including aiding and abetting or failing to prevent the killing of civilians, attacks on international personnel, and the needless destruction of buildings including the historic Old Bridge and mosques during the siege of Mostar.
The most notorious charge related to his role in the massacre of Bosnian Muslim civilians in the village of Stupni Do, a village near the central Bosnian municipality of Vares, in the October 1993.
At least 37 people were killed after Praljak issued an order to “sort out the situation in Vares showing no mercy towards anyone. Find people who are up to both the times and the tasks.”
Those who received the order included Ivica Rajic, a Croat commander in central Bosnia whose troops carried out the massacre and committed rapes in Stupni Do on October 23 and October 24. Rajic was found guilty of crimes including wilful killing and abuse including sexual assault in 2006.
Tuesday’s appeal verdict was the last judgement by the International Criminal Tribunal, which was established in 1993. The court is to close next month.