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War Crimes Court Review Says Bosnian Croat General's Suicide Not Preventable

Slobodan Praljak drinks what turns out to be a fatal dose of potassium cyanide on live TV at his hearing in The Hague on November 29.
Slobodan Praljak drinks what turns out to be a fatal dose of potassium cyanide on live TV at his hearing in The Hague on November 29.

An independent investigation has determined the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) could not have prevented convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak from committing suicide live on television during a court hearing.

The review, released by the ICTY on December 31, concluded that "without specific intelligence (which there was none)...there are no measures that would have guaranteed detection of the poison at any stage."

"My review has not exposed any gaps or flaws in the ICTY legal framework with regard to the treatment of detainees at the UNDU [United Nations Detention Unit] and the ICTY premises and I am therefore not proposing any changes to ICTY rules and regulations," Justice Hassan Jallow wrote in the review.

The 72-year-old Praljak drank from a vial containing potassium cyanide during a live television broadcast as a UN appeals judge upheld his 20-year sentence on war crimes charges at the ICTY on November 29. He died later the same day.

While Dutch prosecutors are still investigating the incident, the review noted it was not possible to "conclusively state" how and when Praljak acquired the poison and that there was no intelligence indicating he possessed any dangerous substances.

"Had such intelligence been available, further intrusive measures (with regard to searches of cells and of Mr. Praljak) could have been taken," the review said.

"However, even if such intelligence had been available, the nature and quantity of poison was such that it could easily have remained undetected even through the most intrusive searches of persons, cells, and other areas," it added.

Under court rules, "intrusive searches" including strip and body-cavity searches, "should be undertaken only if absolutely necessary."

The review recommends introducing a 30-minute delay in the broadcasting of judgements at war crimes courts and cell searches to help avoid similar incidents in the future.

A former commander of Bosnian Croat forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1992-95 war, Praljak was convicted in 2013 of crimes including murder, persecution, and deportation for his role in a plan to carve out a Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

He was one of six Bosnian Croat defendants in court on November 29 to hear rulings on the appeal of their sentences at the ICTY.

Croatian political leaders seized upon Praljak's suicide as evidence of the failings of the war crimes tribunal, which was in the process of handing down its final judgment on November 29 before shutting down.