A former Bosnian Croat military commander died after he drank poison in a UN courtroom on Wednesday after losing an appeal against a 20-year sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims.
Slobodan Praljak, 72, died in hospital, with the UN court announcing that the courtroom was now “a crime scene”.
On hearing that his 20-year jail term had been upheld, the ex-commander of Bosnian Croat forces said he was not a criminal and then drank from a bottle.
In 2013, he was sentenced for crimes in the city of Mostar during the Bosnian war in 1992-95.
Praljak was one of six former Bosnian Croat political and military leaders up before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
They were attending the final appeals judgment to be handed down by the court.
Though allies against the Bosnian Serbs in the war, Bosnian Croats and Muslims also fought each other for a period of 11 months, with Mostar seeing some of the fiercest fighting.
The ICTY upheld the convictions of Praljak as well as Jadranko Prlic, former political leader of the breakaway Bosnian Croat statelet during the war, along with senior Bosnian Croat military and police figures Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petrovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic.
Judges ruled there had been a criminal conspiracy, with the involvement of the Croatian government under then-President Franjo Tudjman – who died in 1999 – aimed at the “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population” of parts of Bosnia to ensure Croat domination there.
The defendants on Wednesday received sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years. The decision cannot be appealed.
Praljak was convicted for his role in the unlawful imprisonment of 1,000 Bosnian Muslims. He was found guilty of murder and persecution and for driving Muslims from Croat-claimed territory in Bosnia.
The chairman of post-war Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency, Dragan Covic, a Croat, said: “(Praljak) showed before the whole world what kind of sacrifice he is ready to make to prove that he is not a war criminal.”
Previously, two defendants awaiting their ICTY trial, both Serbs, committed suicide by hanging themselves in their U.N. cells, according to court documents. Slavko Dogmanovic died in 1998 and Milan Babic was found dead in his locked cell in 2006.