location: “Serb Republic of Krajina” (RSK) covered the territories of Lika, Kordun, northern Dalmatia, Banija, western Slavonia, eastern Slavonia and western Srijem and Baranja. RSK was divided into four UN sectors: western (western Slavonia), Eastern (eastern Slavonia), Northern (Kordun, Banija, northern part of Lika) and southern (Dalmatia, southern part of Lika). Operation Storm was carried out on the territories of the UN sectors South and North.
time: August and September 1995
description of events: In the early morning hours of 4 August 1995, the Croatian Army began an extensive military operation named Storm. The operation started at 5 a.m. with the shelling of all significant points of Serb defence, especially the town of Knin, as the RSK’s central town. The action itself lasted for 84 hours, i.e. its official termination was declared at 6 p.m. on 7 August 1995. Some 200,000 Croatian soldiers participated in the action, but in some parts of the operation, HVO and B-H Army (from Bosnia) also actively participated. With the operation Storm, the constitutional-legal order of the Republic of Croatia was re-established in the large part of the area covered by the RSK, but the operation cannot be regarded without taking into consideration its negative consequences which still have an effect today. Research conducted by the Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO) in August and September 1995 showed that during and after the completion of the military operation, on the affected territory more than 600 civilians were killed and several thousand houses and ancillary facilities were burnt down. The Information-documentation centre Veritas assessed the number of civilians killed during and after Operation Storm at more than 1,200. In fear for their personal safety and because of the insistence of the Krajina authorities, some 200,000 of its inhabitants, mostly Serbs, left Croatia. Their return was prevented by the failure to establish secure conditions and legal order in that part of Croatian territory, belated processing of war crimes, inefficient return program and the state’s slow economic measures to speed up the reconstruction of the destroyed and looted infrastructure. Synergy of the mentioned elements resulted in permanent emigration of the Serb population from one-fifth of Croatian territory to the extent that absolutely has the effect of ethnic cleansing.
victims: Due to different levels at which particular crimes committed during and after the operation Storm have been researched, it is unfortunately not possible to consistently and uniformly describe each individual crime, or to present precise lists of names of the victims of every crime. Hence in the further text we bring details only of some crimes, while those best researched are presented as individual crimes on this map of crime.
On 6 August 1995, in the village of Golubić near Knin at least ten civilians were killed. Vaso Vasić (b. 1920) and Nikola Panić (b. 1935) were killed with firearms – the army brought them in front of their houses and shot them. On that day, also executed were Branko Radovanović (b. 1920), Maša Radujko (B.1927) and her husband Nikola Radujko (b. 1918), Tode Marić (b. 1929), Milka Grubić (about 60 years old), Zorka Kablar (about 80 years old), Milica Šljivar (b. 1936) and Jeka Opačić (about 80 years old).
On 7 August 1995, at about 10 a.m., in the village of Bravsko in the neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Croatian military air-force’s two supersonic aircraft of the MIG-21 type, flew 30 km inside the B-H territory, shooting at a column of civilians from southern Lika and northern Dalmatia, who fled in fear from their homes during Operation Storm. The column was moving along the so called Petrovačka road between Bosanski Petrovac and Ključ. Near the town of Kapljuh in the village of Bravsko, two aircraft which arrived from the west, i.e. from Croatia, flew over them. In the second overflight several missiles were fired at the column, instantly killing Darinka Drča (b. 1927) and her grandchildren (Jovica Drča b. 1989) and Mirjana Dubajić (b. 1974), all from Brotinja near Donji Lapac, brother and sister Nevenka Rajić (b. 1984)and Žarko Rajić (b.1986) from Donji Lapac, Krstan Vuković (b. 1951) and his son Darko (b. 1982) form Donji Lapac and Branko Stjelja (b. 1923) and his son Mirko(b. 1961) form Nadin near Benkovac. According to witness statements (local population and surviving refugees), only civilians were in the column and there were no members of any sort of military units in the vicinity. Aircraft flew over the column at a very low altitude and relatively slowly, and the pilots must have been able to see that these were civilian vehicles, women and children. Still, after the first overflight, the aircraft turned around and opened fire on the column before flying away and back to Croatia. This incident happened on the last day of Operation Storm, when no real threat existed for Croatian units and deep within the territory of the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Killings of at least six and according to some records fifteen civilians, in Mokro Polje (Knin) started during the offensive Storm and continued after military activities ended. Ružica Babić (b. 1926) was killed on 6 August 1995 at her doorstep. Stana Popović (b. 1926) and Mirko Popović (b. 1952), mother and son, were killed on 7 August 1995 in their own house, with bullets from firearms. Stevan Sučević (b. 1934) was killed on 9 August 1995. Jeka Kanazir (b. 1928) was thrown into “Pavlovic’s well” She was buried in Knin 40 days later. Sava Babić (b. 1913) was killed with firearms on 24 August 1995 in front of her house. In the village of Kijani (Gračac) during Operation Storm and until the end of 1995, according to HHO, 14 killed civilians were registered, among whom nine women: Dane Bolta (90 years old); Sava Bolta (about 70 years old); Branko Jelača (about 67 years old); Marija Jelača (b. 1913); Milica Jelača (b. 1927); Ana Jelača (about 50 years old); Smilja Jelača (about 90 years old); Dušan Kesić (b. 1939); Mileva Kolundžić (about 70 years old); Mara Sovilj /about 75 years old); Mira Sovilj (about 50 years old); Rade Sovilj (b. around 1947) and Vlado Sovilj (b. 1931) who had returned home from the refugee column.
It is difficult to find a village in the northern Dalmatia and Lika where there has not been a murder of one or more civilians during and immediately after Operation Storm. Well known murders include those in Uzdolje, Žagrović, Plavno, Srmica, Lički Tiškovac, Kosovo, Oćestovo, Ivoševci, Zrmanja etc.
legal outcome: There have been three judicial proceeding for war crimes committed during and immediately after Operation Storm. The only one which ended with a final verdict and a conviction, was the one against Božo Bačelić for a war crime committed in Prokljan and Mandići. In March 2016, Bačelić was convicted to seven years in prison for killing Nikola Damjanić and his wife Milica in Prokljan on 11 August 1995. Bačelić was also convicted because on 9 and 10 August, he and two other members of the platoon he had commanded, captured a member of the RSK Army, Vuk Mandić, took him to an abandoned house in the area of Varivode and killed him.
For killing three civilians – Radomir, Mira and Mara Sovilj – in Kijani in August 1995 – the County Court in Rijeka convicted Rajko Kričković, pending appeal, to 10 years in prison.
A trial was held for the murder of six civilians in Grubori on 25 August 1995, against Frano Drlja and Božo Krajina. County Court in Zagreb acquitted them, and the verdict was confirmed by the Supreme Court. The County Court concluded that that there was a strong conspiracy of silence among the defendants, that the victims had been killed because they were Serbs, and that their houses were burned because their owners were Serbs.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for crimes committed in the UN sector South, indicted generals Ivan Čermak, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač. All three were acquitted, Čermak in a first instance ruling and Gotovina and Markač in a second instance ruling. The ICTY forwarded the entire file of the Gotovina/Čermak/Markač case to the Croatian authorities, but regardless of all the data, facts and depositions enclosed in that file, this has not led to faster judicial proceedings when it comes to war crimes committed during and after the Storm.
Victims’ families have a moral right to expect that perpetrators should be held responsible for their tragedies and tragedies of many others, regardless of which side they fought for and in whose name crimes were committed. Crimes committed during the Storm were discussed in front of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague during the pronouncement of verdicts for genocide, which Croatia and Serbia raised against each other. Judges concluded that shelling of towns in RSK was not directed against civilians and that they were not intentionally targeted. The Tribunal said that it was not disputed that the flight of a significant part of Serb population was a direct consequence of the Croatian military operation, especially shelling of towns. It further noticed that the Brijuni transcripts showed that Croatia’s highest political and military authorities were well aware that the Storm would result in a mass exodus of Serbs and that they “to a certain extent even predicted military planning related to this exodus, which they considered probable and even desirable.”
The ICC concluded that the Croatian forces had committed murders of members of a protected group and caused them grave physical and psychological traumas by establishing their responsibility for killings and attacks against refugee columns, as well as responsibility for killing Serb civilians during and after the military operations. Judges confirmed the ICTY’s findings about the abuse of Serb civilians, systematic looting, and destruction of Serb houses. But as regards genocide, the ICC concluded that if there had been a policy of expelling Serbs, it does not mean that there had been a policy aimed at physical destruction of the Serb population and that this is far from a specific intention which characterises the crime of genocide. The number of witnesses of crimes which happened after Operation Strom is diminishing, and the institutions of the Croatian state are not showing any initiative to process these crimes, moreover, in almost all processes related to these crimes there has been sloppiness in preparing indictments and in conducting proceedings, which in most cases led to acquittals.