Slobodan Praljak, a Bosnian-Croat military commander committed suicide by swallowing poison immediately after he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for war crimes.
At the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in the UN’s International Court of Justice, proceedings ultimately resulted in confusion and death.
One of 6 people on trial for war crimes, Mr Praljak stood up and stated that he had contempt for the sentence and began drinking a small vial of what he claimed was poison.
Mr Praljak had already drunk the entire vial before anyone had time to react and he was quickly escorted out of the courtroom, later dying in hospital.
The rulings were to address appeals against convictions regarding Croatia’s involvement in the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict. When it was clear Mr Praljak would have to serve his 20 year sentence, he declared his innocence before taking his own life.
While other war criminals have taken their lives during proceedings, Mr Praljak was the first to do it in the courtroom. All the others had done it inside their jail cells between hearings.
The 6 Bosnian-Croat leaders were convicted of expelling, persecuting and murdering Bosnian Muslims during the war. The ICTY upheld the 2013 rulings that the accused were part of a criminal enterprise to create a greater Croatian state at the expense of Bosnia’s Muslim population.
The alleged aim of the accused was to create an ethnically homogenous Bosnian-Croat state that did not include Muslims. This was carried out in the form of ethnic genocide.
Mr Praljak himself was responsible for the destruction of an iconic 16th century bridge in the Bosnian city of Mostar and had tried to cover up his forces’ killing of Muslim civilians.
While some of the convictions against Mr Praljak were overturned, the major ones remained and he was to face 20 years in prison as well as being branded a war criminal.
The ICTY had only days earlier convicted the Serbian general Ratko Mladic for the Srebrenica massacre in which more than 7000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered.
The suicide, a final act of defiance from Mr Praljak, marked the beginning of the end for the proceedings of the ICTY which was carrying out its final sentencing. The trials have currently been suspended while questions circulate about Mr Praljak’s actions and how he managed to sneak poison into the heavily guarded courtroom.
The decade’s worth of hearings had reminded the world of the incredibly complex ethnic tensions between groups in former Yugoslavia, many of which still persist today.
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