Many Macedonians hope that Johan Tarculovski, the only Macedonian national convicted for war crimes by the Hague Tribunal, could soon be released following the recent acquittals of Kosovo’s Ramush Haradinaj and Croatia’s Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac.“Free Johan immediately!”, “Only our Johan remains to rot in jail”, and “End the Hague’s double standards”, are some of the recent messages posted on social networks following news of the acquittals of the former Kosovo Prime Minister and the two Croatian Generals in The Hague.
Tarculovski has already served eight of a 12-year sentence. In March 2013, after serving two-thirds of his sentence, he will be eligible to appeal for early release.
“We cannot speak now in detail as we are determining further steps in Johan’s defence,” one of those involved in Tarculovski’s defence told Balkan Insight on condition of anonymity.
In May 2010, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, convicted Tarculovski of committing war crimes during the conflict in Macedonia in 2001.
He was found guilty of leading a police unit that killed ethnic Albanian villagers and committed other atrocities in Ljuboten near Skopje.
The court acquitted Tarculovski’s chief, the former Macedonian Police Minister, Ljube Boskovski, who was charged with command responsibility.
In 2001 Macedonia saw an armed conflict between the security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels. Hostilities ended with the signing of a peace deal that year that granted greater rights to ethnic Albanians who make up about a quarter of the population.
“We should not forget that Tarculovski is the only one convicted from either side [in the conflict in 2001],” a Skopje law professor, Biljana Vankovska, said.
She recalled that last year Macedonia adopted an amnesty concerning four war-crimes cases involving ethnic Albanians that dated back to 2001.
“In its decision making, besides the basic criteria, it [the ICTY] should take into consideration the wider context in Macedonia, where the war ended a long time ago and which is now seemingly a peaceful country”, she added.
The ICTY acquitted Haradinaj and two co-defendants on Thursday of all war-crimes charges relating to the Kosovo conflict of the late 1990s.
On November 16, the tribunal quashed a 2011 first-instance verdict that jailed Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, for 24 and 18 years respectively, for crimes against Serb civilians during the Croatian Army operation codenamed “Oluja” [“Storm”] in 1995.
Both rulings have caused outrage in Serbia.