A former Bosnian Croat general convicted of war crimes in a U.N. tribunal has died from drinking poison after his sentence of 20 years was upheld.
In the courtroom Wednesday at The Hague, in front of the cameras filming the hearing, the 72-year-old former general, Slobodan Praljak, shouted before tilting his head back and drinking from a small bottle: “Praljak is not a criminal. With disdain, I reject your verdict.”
After a few moments of confusion, Praljak announced he had drunk poison.
According to the Guardian:
As court officials surrounded the white-haired and bearded Praljak, the presiding judge, Carmel Agius, immediately ordered the proceedings to be suspended. The curtains screening the courtroom were abruptly closed to the public.
Within minutes, an ambulance arrived outside the tribunal, while a helicopter hovered overhead.
The Croatian prime minister, Andrej Plenković, later confirmed Praljak died in a Dutch hospital, and Dutch police declared the courtroom a crime scene, according to the Associated Press. Plenković has condemned Praljak’s sentencing, saying Praljak’s suicide reflected “the deep moral injustice toward the Croatian people,” according to the AP.
Praljak’s conviction was part of the last ruling from an appeals case in the U.N.’s war crimes court for six former Bosnian Croat leaders over war crimes during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The initial ruling in 2013 found the six men guilty of persecuting, killing, and expelling Muslims during the war.
Praljak was one of the leaders who during the ’90s turned against the Bosnian army in an attempt to create an ethnic Croat region in Bosnia by driving Muslims out. He was also blamed for ordering the destruction of the Old Bridge in Mostar, an ancient monument of Islamic heritage in Bosnia.
Plenković has argued that the Croat leadership, and former President Franjo Tudjman in particular, did not participate in a plan to carve out a Croat state in Bosnia.
A week ago, the U.N. tribunal—the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia—found Ratko Mladić, the former Bosnian Serb military commander known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” guilty of genocide and sentenced him to a life in prison. The tribunal will close at the end of the year, Slate’s Josh Keating writes, after having sentenced more than 80 war criminals since its inception in 1993. Wednesday’s hearing is the final case completed before it closes.
The Croatian government is holding an emergency session in the wake of Praljak’s death, according to the AP. The U.N. hearing for the other suspects was suspended but resumed later Wednesday in a different room.