Convicted war criminal Slobodan Praljak died after apparently drinking poison as his 20-year sentence was upheld by a United Nations war crimes court Wednesday, The New York Times reports.
Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia upheld the convictions of Praljak and five other defendants related to the atrocities committed in the Bosnian and Croatian wars.
As the judges delivered their rulings, Praljak stood up and declared, “Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject your judgment with contempt.”
He then raised a small vial and drank it.
“Our client says he took poison,” his lawyer told the panel.
Praljak was taken out of the courtroom as the hearing was suspended.
He was pronounced dead shortly after.
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It’s unclear how he was able to smuggle the apparent poison into the courtroom as The Hague has tight security procedures.
According to The Times, the hearing focused on “Croatia’s often-overlooked role in the Bosnian war” after 24 years in which The Hague mostly focused on the Serbian role in the war.
“Croatia, a range of trials at the tribunal have shown, also orchestrated a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign to seize Bosnian lands once the Yugoslav federation began to disintegrate in 1991,” The Times reports.
Both Croatia and Serbia attempted to forcibly remove large numbers of Bosnians to expand their own borders. The moves set off horrific acts of ethnic cleansing, which the trials have shown was the goal of the Serbian and Croatian governments rather than an unfortunate byproduct of a war.
According to international prosecutors, the Croatian government funded and staffed militias that rounded up non-Croatian men, eventually imprisoning as many as 10,000.
The militias also abused, raped, and sometimes killed women and the elderly.
Tens of thousands of people fled. The majority of the victims were Bosnian Muslims.
About a dozen Croats have been convicted by the international court, most notably over a monthslong siege of the city of Mostar.
“The case being heard on Wednesday was an appeal involving Croats sentenced to prison terms of between 10 years and 25 years for their role as military or political leaders during the Bosnian campaign,” The Times reports. “Mr. Praljak was convicted of war crimes over the Mostar offensive.”
According to prosecutors, Praljak ordered the destruction of a historic 16th-century bridge in the city and “caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population.”
Nearly 80 percent of the city was destroyed in the siege.
More than 100,000 people died in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and about 2.2 million others were displaced.