The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) doubtless hoped that its final judgment, on November 29, in the case of Prosecutor v Jadranko Prlić et al – otherwise known as the “Croat Six” – would round off its work nicely.

The tribunal had recently sentenced Ratko Mladić, the Serb general who ordered the genocide in Srebrenica (and much else in Croatia, for which he was never tried), to life imprisonment. Now it could fulfil its unspoken but widely recognised mandate to equalise guilt in the wars of Yugoslav succession by upholding the lengthy sentences against six Croats for war crimes against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina – which it duly did.

The production went off course, however, when Croat general Slobodan Praljak, himself in earlier life a film producer, stood up and declared: “Slobodan Praljak is no war criminal. I reject your judgment with contempt.” Saying which, he brought out a concealed phial of arsenic, downed it and later died in hospital.

Suicide is a grave offence against God. But this was an act whose significance needs to be grasped.

Praljak probably had only about 18 months of his sentence to serve. His act was a gesture not of despair but of protest. He was convinced of his innocence. One can never know, of course, whether he or the other five had committed other offences. But on no fair, objective analysis should they have been found guilty on this indictment.

The case against the Croat Six was made within the context of the accusation of a Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE) undertaken by Croatia’s then leadership, including president Franjo Tudjman, aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims.

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