Independent probe to be held on Praljak's death

A tribute shrine to war criminal Slobodan Praljak in Zagreb, Croatia, on Thursday. The Bosnian Croat took his own life in front of UN war crimes judges on Wednesday, apparently by drinking poison, just after they upheld his 20-year jail term for atro
A tribute shrine to war criminal Slobodan Praljak in Zagreb, Croatia, on Thursday. The Bosnian Croat took his own life in front of UN war crimes judges on Wednesday, apparently by drinking poison, just after they upheld his 20-year jail term for atrocities committed in a breakaway Bosnian Croat statelet during the 1990s wars.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Inquiry into war criminal's suicide will add to Dutch investigation

THE HAGUE • A United Nations war crimes court said yesterday that it is launching an "independent expert review" into the death of a Bosnian Croat war criminal who appeared to drink poison in front of shocked judges.

The probe will complement the Dutch investigation into the suicide of Slobodan Praljak, said the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in a statement.

Praljak, 72, died in hospital shortly after drinking from a small brown glass bottle in the ICTY courtroom on Wednesday, with his lawyer claiming it was poison.

His final act of defiance, which was broadcast live around the world, came just moments after judges rejected his appeal, upholding his 20-year jail term for atrocities committed in a breakaway Bosnian Croat statelet during the 1990s wars.

On Thursday, Dutch prosecutor Marilyn Fikenscher said initial tests showed that the bottle contained "a chemical substance which can cause death", although an autopsy or toxicology tests have yet to be carried out .

The shocking images drew the curtain on two decades of work at the court, set up in 1993 to try those responsible for the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.

But it remains a mystery what the former theatre and movie director, known for his forcible courtroom presence and outbursts, drank and how he managed to get it past the tight security at the tribunal.

Praljak's lawyer, Ms Nika Pinter, said she had no idea what her client was about to do and that based on conversations ahead of the verdict, it was clear her client would find it very difficult to accept the court's confirmation of his 20-year sentence. "I never thought he could do such a thing, but I understand because he is a man of honour who could not live with a conviction for war crimes and being led out of the courtroom in handcuffs," she told Agence France-Presse.

Dutch prosecutors have already launched a full investigation at the court's request, including into security lapses, and have said their probe will focus on "assisted suicide and violation of the Medicines Act".

The UN court probe, which will begin next week, will look at "ICTY internal operations" in order to assess "relevant existing procedures as well as make any recommendations which may assist other courts in the future," the statement said.

It will be led by Justice Hassan Jallow, chief justice of the Gambia and former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and will aim to issue a report by the time the court closes on Dec 31.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2017, with the headline 'Independent probe to be held on Praljak's death'. Print Edition | Subscribe