The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is inspecting a request by Croatia to be granted the status of an amicus curiae in the trial against Prlic et al, presiding judge Carmel Agius said on Wednesday and added that an appeal judgement in the case could be expected at the end of next year.

Judges are still deliberating on the request, Judge Agius said at a status conference on Wednesday.

Mid-March this year, Croatia submitted an application to be granted the status of an amicus curiae and join in appeals proceedings in "the Prlic and others" case at the ICTY in which the highest Croatian officials - former President Franjo Tudjman, former Defence Minister Gojko Susak, and former Croatian Army Chief-of-Staff Janko Bobetko - were declared, in a non-final verdict in the case, to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at ethnically cleaning parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The trial judgement delivered in 2013 found that the three, now deceased, Croatian officials devised and implemented an alleged criminal enterprise with the aim of changing the ethnic make-up of the territories claimed to form part of the Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna by allegedly directing and coordinating events on the ground to commit the crimes which resulted from a a plan to remove the Muslim population from that area.

In its request Croatia notes that it wishes to be granted status amicus curiae for two reasons. Firstly because the trial chamber, in its judgement written on more than two thousand pages, did not cite a single piece of evidence that would corroborate the conclusion that Tudjman, Susak and Bobetko committed those crimes or intended for them to be committed and secondly, because by concluding that they were members of a criminal enterprise the trial chamber violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

In its request Croatia asked to be allowed to "file this amicus curiae brief and appear as amicus curiae in these proceedings" because it believes that it would be "desirable" as it would "assist [the Appeals Chamber] in the proper determination of the case." The application was filed by Croatian Justice Minister Ante Sprlje who visited the six Bosnian Croats accused in the Prlic et al case who are currently detained in the Scheveningen detention centre.

In its response dated March 31, ICTY prosecutors objected to Croatia's request.

Not one of the five accused attending the status conference (Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoje Petkovic and Valentin Coric) had any objections to the conditions in the detention centre, nor health problems that they wished to make known.

Defence counsels wished to know how the appeals procedure was progressing and when a final judgement could be expected.

We expect an appeal judgement near the end of 2017, Judge Agius said, adding that this appeal was exceptionally difficult and that in the 16 years that the tribunal had existed there had never been a more difficult and complex case as this.

In the "Prlic and others" case, in May 2013 the ICTY sentenced the six Bosnia and Herzegovina Croats to prison sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years for crimes against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise. The then Prime Minister of the Croat Community of Herceg-Bosna, Jadranko Prlic, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Defence Minister Bruno Stojic to 20 years, the commanders of the Croat Defence Council (HVO), generals Milivoj Petkovic and Slobodan Praljak, to 20 years each, HVO Military Police Commander Valentin Coric to 16 years and the head of the Office for the Exchange of Prisoners of War, Berislav Pusic, to ten years in prison.

The Trial Chamber concluded, with a dissenting opinion of Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti, that the conflict between the HVO and the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993-94 was an international conflict and that most crimes against the Muslim population of Herceg-Bosna which the accused are charged with were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise that also involved a part of Croatia's political and military leadership, including Tudjman. According to the Trial Chamber's explanation, the purpose of the joint criminal enterprise was to establish a Croat entity within the boundaries of the 1939 Banovina Hrvatska (Croatia's Banovina) and eventually annex that territory to Croatia in case Bosnia and Herzegovina disintegrated.

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