Slobodan Praljak, a commander of Bosnian Croat forces during the Bosnian War has died after drinking a phial of poison while standing in the dock at a UN tribunal in The Hague, where his war crimes sentence of 20 years was upheld.
As judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia were delivering rulings on Wednesday on appeals related to Croatia’s involvement in the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, one of the six defendants, Praljak, who was standing, addressed the court.
Watch as former Bosnian Croat military leader Slobodan Praljak appears to drink poison seconds after ICTY judges uphold his 20-year sentence pic.twitter.com/H4ThZK47Px
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 29, 2017
Moments after the judges had delivered their decision Praljak shouted out angrily:“Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal,” adding that “I reject your judgment with contempt.”
It is understood that the 72-year-old then raised a small brown bottle to his lips, and drank it in full view of the cameras filming the hearing.
“I just drank poison,” he said. “I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.”
As court officials surrounded the white-haired and bearded Praljak, the presiding judge, Carmel Agius, immediately ordered the proceedings to be suspended. The curtains screening the courtroom were abruptly closed to the public.
Within minutes, an ambulance arrived outside the tribunal, while a helicopter hovered overhead. Praljak was taken to hospital but officially declared dead a few hours later.
The death on Wednesday was first reported by Croatian state TV and later confirmed by the tribunal’s spokesperson.
An official statement from the ICTY said: “Mr Slobodan Praljak, one of six defence appellants in the Prlić et al case, passed away today in HMC hospital in The Hague.
“During the public pronouncement of the appeal judgment the appeals chamber confirmed his conviction and affirmed Mr Praljak’s sentence of 20 years of imprisonment. Immediately thereafter, Mr Praljak drank a liquid while in court, and quickly fell ill.
“Mr Praljak was immediately assisted by the ICTY medical staff. Simultaneously an ambulance was summoned. Mr Praljak was transported to a nearby hospital to receive further medical assistance where he passed away.
“In accordance with standard procedures, at the request of the ICTY, the Dutch authorities have initiated an independent investigation which is currently ongoing. The tribunal has extended its condolences to the next of kin.”