General sentenced for destroying cultural heritage
by Lucian Harris
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has sentenced Pavle Strugar, former general of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), to eight years in prison for his role in the shelling of the historic old town of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, on 6 December 1991. The sentence was pronounced on 31 January.
Strugar was found guilty of attacks on civilians and of the destruction of historical monuments, two of the six counts on which he was indicted. This latest sentencing follows a seven-year sentence handed out last year to Admiral Miodrag Jokić of the Yugoslav navy, who pleaded guilty to the same charges and subsequently testified against his former colleague. A third defendant is awaiting trial on similar charges.
The shelling of Dubrovnik caused international outrage at the time, compounded by the fact that UNESCO officials were actually trapped by the bombardment and were able to prepare a very detailed report on the damage, later submitted to the court.
Legal experts believe that the ruling will establish an important precedent as it is only the second time, after Admiral Jokić's conviction last year, that an international criminal court has convicted a military commander of acting in contravention of the laws and customs of war in relation to the destruction of cultural property, customary international law being notoriously difficult to define.
Harvard-based András Riedlmayer, an ICTY expert witness on Balkan cultural heritage, told The Art Newspaper that cases relating to the two sieges of Mostar, when many of the town's cultural landmarks were targeted, are to be considered by the international tribunal. Currently, Croatian army general Slobodan Praljak is awaiting trial on charges that include the destruction of Mostar's Old Bridge in November 1993, while indictments relating to the JNA siege of spring 1992 are also expected. According to Mr Riedlmayer, a number of other war-crimes indictments brought by the ICTY have included similar charges relating to the destruction of cultural property, some of which have come to judgement while others remain pending.
This article appeared in The Art Newspaper (London), 25 February 2005