Convicted war criminal commits suicide in open court

Late last month, Slobodan Praljak arrived in court at the Hague to hear the final outcome of his appeal. It was not what he had hoped for. Praljak, convicted in 2013 of war crimes stemming from his role in the civil war in Bosnia, learned that his conviction and sentence would stand.

As the judgment was read, and with cameras rolling, Praljak produced a small vial of liquid and drank it in full view of the judges.  He then announced, “I just drank poison.  I am not a war criminal.  I oppose this conviction.”  The hearing was immediately postponed and Praljak was rushed to the hospital.  He died shortly thereafter.

Dutch police and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are now investigating how Praljak smuggled the poison into the courtroom.  The New York Times reports on that question, as well as Praljak’s odd behavior in the days leading up to the hearing:

Defense lawyers at the tribunal say the security arrangements in place for defendants like Mr. Praljak, and the five other men whose sentences were affirmed on Wednesday, were rigorous. They were subjected to body searches when they left their detention center — inside a high-security Dutch prison — and again when they arrived at the tribunal building. But, lawyers acknowledged, body-cavity searches were not part of the routine. And in the months before his final appearance in court, he had seemed to eschew contact with his family and his lawyers.

Nika Pinter, his lead counsel, said in a telephone interview from Zagreb, the Croatian capital, that Mr. Praljak had told his family not to be present at the judgment.

Prajlak had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, and would have been eligible for parole in just two years (accounting for time served).  Perhaps this event will reinforce the need for courthouse security to protect the parties as much as the judges and court staff.

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