location: Grubori are one of the hamlets belonging to the village of Plavno, 15 km away from Knin. According to different sources, between 40 and 70 persons lived there in 1991, while today there are no inhabitants.

time: 25 August 1995

description of crime: At the beginning of the military-police operation Storm, most villagers from Plavno and Grubori abandoned their houses and joined the column of refugees travelling towards Lika and Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Grubori, about a dozen mostly elderly villagers stayed behind as they did not want to leave their houses.  Many of them were scared and were not spending nights in their homes but in barns and outside the houses. Croatian army troops first entered Plavno on 8 August 1995 and issued an order for the villagers to come to the local school on 25 August to be registered by UNPROFOR for the purpose of either leaving for the then SR Yugoslavia or staying in Croatia. On that morning, most Plavno and Grubori inhabitants were headed towards the school, but some stayed in their houses out of fear. Seven villagers who were on their way to the school saw members of the Lučko Antiterrorist Unit approach their hamlet. Some half an hour later, they could clearly see smoke and hear shooting. Upon return, they found the entire hamlet up in flames. They found six dead villagers, killed by the members of the Croatian police’s special antiterrorist unit.

victims:

  1. Marija Grubor (b. 1905.)
  2. Miloš Grubor (b. 1915.)
  3. Jovo Grubor (b. 1930.)
  4. Milica Grubor (b. 1944.)
  5. Đuro Karanović (b. 1950.)
  6. Jovan Gurbor (b. 1922

All of the persons killed were Serbs and civilians and Dušanka Grubor, one of the inhabitants testified: I came to the barn because from there one could see the smoke. Livestock was burning alive and I was calling out to my husband Jovo. Next to the dead cows, my husband lay with his throat cut and half of his face missing. I was in shock and sought help. I ran to the house of Miloš Grubor who was on his sick bed. I found him lying on the floor in his pyjamas in a pool of blood and spent shell casings by his side. I called out to my mother-in-law Marija but did not find her. The night fell on Grubori and the next day the UNPROFOR drove us to Knin. One day later we continued the search for survivors. Among the charred ruins of my house, I found my mother-in-law Marija, burnt all over her body, lying on her back on the ground. On the meadow, on 26 August 1995 we found two corpses: Milica Grubor who was stabbed with a knife and sprayed with bullets. A little further away was the corpse of Đuro Koranović, who also had stab wounds on his neck and bullet wounds on his chest. Jovan Koranović burned in his house, we saw the burnt lot. The UNPROFOR photographed and recorded all that, took the victims’ names…

Although the crime in Grubori has been in the media and is known to the wider public, mostly because of the photos taken immediately after the crime, this is not the only crime in Plavno. In the scattered hamlets of Plavno, more than 25 civilians perished during and after the operation Storm.

judicial outcome: The crime in Grubori was included in the final judgment against Gotovina and others before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Hague judicial coucil  established beyond reasonable doubt that Jovo Grubor, Miloš Grubor, Marija Grubor, Milka Grubor and Đuro Karanović were victims of murders committed within the framework of criminal acts against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war, stipulated by Article 5 and Article 3 of the ICTY Statute, but did not establish criminal responsibility of the defendants. In the trial before the County Court in Zagreb, the indictment also cites the name of the sixth victim, Jovan Grubor, son of late Damjan.

Following a systematic cover-up of crimes that many persons testified about before the ICTY, County State Attorney in Zagreb on 15 December 2010 indicted three Croatian citizens: Frano Drelja (1963), Božo Krajina (1957) and Igor Beneta (1973) – the latter died in 2011 before the trial began – for the act of war crime against civilians form Article 120 paragraph 10 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Croatia. At the end of the trial, which began on 24 November 2011, in his closing statement on 31 May 2014, Robert Petrovečki, the deputy county state prosecutor, said that “it was not disputable that a war crime happened in which members of the ATU Lučko brutally murdered six civilians”. The two defendants, according to prosecution, had unquestioned command function. “The remains of bodies were found and the entirely torched village”, prosecutor said and sought from the court to declare the defendants guilty for crimes in Grubori.

During the evidentiary proceedings, 70 witnesses were questioned, some of them holding high positions in the military and the police. Reconstruction of events from 1995 was carried out twice in the hamlet of Grubori and in the meantime one of the defendants, the third accused Igor Beneta, was found hanged.

The second accused, Frano Drelja, was charged with directly committing a crime against six civilians and with failing to prevent his subordinates from committing a crime, killing civilians and burning their homes, while the second accused, Božo Krajina, was charged exclusively based on his command responsibility. Some witnesses changed the statements given during the investigative proceedings, and the majority of the defendants’ former fellow-fighters neither saw nor heard anything. They did not know who had been in command of the operation and who were their immediate commanders in the field. Former members of this elite unit did not know who had set the direction of their movement, and they did not check houses they came across on the way, although the terrain was being combed with the goal of eliminating the remaining enemy forces.

After the crime in Grubori, investigative proceedings were intentionally obstructed. The Antiterrorist Unit Lučko of the Ministry of Interior of Republic of Croatia was divided into four groups immediately before the action of 25 August 1995. In the action of clearing the terrain, before the Freedom train was about to pass, according to testimony by the operation’s commander Ivan Čelić (13 November 2012, County Court Zagreb), Branko Balunović, Stjepan Žinić and the defendants Frano Drlje and Božo Krajina were appointed commanders of these groups in the field. According to Čelić, all the mentioned group commanders had full command responsibility within their units, which meant that their orders had to be followed unconditionally. As commander Čelić testified, soon after the start of the operation, he had returned to initial positions with a single found civilian and from then on, he lost touch with the other groups’ commanders. With Zdravko Janić, commander in charge of the entire operation, he left in the direction of the operation’s finishing line where the mentioned groups’ commanders reported that they had not encountered any problems during the operation, which is what he conveyed to the headquarters of the Special Police in Gračac in his preliminary report.

Before the procedure in front of the County Court, before the ICTY many more witnesses were questioned about the crime in Grubori than about any other crime from the indictment. Based on the statements of the then police commanders and members of special forces, the ICTY council concluded that after the murders, a story was concocted about a conflict with “Serb terrorists”. Among other, they arrived at such a conclusion based on statements by Josip Čelić, who repeated before the County Court in Zagreb his statements that in the first report on the day of the action he had informed his superiors that there had been no fighting during the action, but was then summoned to Gračac, where the deputy commander Željko Sačić told him that there has been “armed clashes” in Grubori and that they had to write another report which Sačić dictated to him in a separate room. The commander of one of the groups in the field, Balunović, who had also testified both in the Hague and in Zagreb, mentioned that one day after the meeting at the special police headquarters in Gračac, Čelić informed him that “following instructions by Mr Sačić”, the deputy of special units’ commander Mladen Markač, he wrote a new, different, report about the clearing action, saying that the special police in Grubori came into conflict with Serb fighters which may have led to the deaths of elderly people in a crossfire. According to Čelić’s testimony, at the Headquarters in Gračac he also found general Markač, after which Željko Sačić took him to a separate room where, using notes he wrote on the back of his first report, he instructed Čelić to write a new report. At the same time, Sačić informed him that his first report was not accurate and that the new one needed to contain information about “armed conflicts”. During the trial in Zagreb, witness Čelić enclosed his first report about the action, which had Sačić’s handwritten text on the back.

In its first-instance judgment, the judicial council established that crimes were committed by members of the ATU Lučko, but it acquitted the defendants. A retrial for war crimes against civilian population in Grubori, which started on 15 February 2016 before a completely changed Zagreb County Court council, chaired by judge Ivan Turudić, ended with the same outcome, the acquittal of the defendants, with an explanation that crimes were undoubtedly committed by members of the ATU Lučko. The ruling stated that there has been a strong pledge of silence among the witnesses, which was also confirmed by the Supreme Court. The ruling established that the entire chain of command failed to take necessary steps to find out the perpetrators. Instead of uncovering those responsible for murder of civilians “only because they were Serbs” and torching houses “only because Serbs live in them”, there came a disgraceful concoction about an invented Chetnik attack and callous ignorance of a war crime against civilian population. The Supreme Court confirmed the County Court’s ruling in September 2019.