|Location||Gospić, Republic of Serbian Krajina (present-day Republic of Croatia)|
|Date||16–18 October 1991|
|Deaths||Between 90 and 150|
The Gospić massacre was a massacre of up to 100 Serbs, including entire families, that took place between 16–18 October 1991 in the town of Gospić, a city in the district of Lika in Croatia. Between 23 and 100 local civilians (60 Serbs and 40 Croats) were murdered by members of a Croatian military unit. Although a Croatian paramilitary, Miroslav Bajramović, admitted to responsibility for the deaths of 90 to 100 people, almost all Serbs, Serbian sources cite 150 disappearances.
A Croatian county court ruled that fifty people were killed, 24 of whom were ethnic Serbs; the ruling was disputed by Serbs.[clarification needed] The commander of the unit, Mirko Norac  was convicted, along with four others,[clarification needed] for his involvement in the massacre, in Croatia in 2003.
At the time of the massacre, Gospić was a front-line town in the war between the Croatian government forces and rebel Serb forces of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina. The massacre came three days after the killing of the 40 (mostly Croatian) civilians in the village of Široka Kula 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) away. At the time, the front formed a salient just to the east of Gospić, and the town itself saw a siege between Croatian National Guard forces and a Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) unit trapped for a while in the town's barracks, which eventually fell to Croatian forces. The town was heavily shelled by Serb forces seeking to capture it in order to advance to the coast, which lies only about 30 km away.
Gospić had always been predominantly ethnically Croatian city, which had a large ethnic Serb minority. However many Serbs fled during the war as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated. After the massacre, the city was largely deserted by Serbs; Miroslav Bajramović, from Croatian unit responsible for the killings,[clarification needed] admitted that the motivation and order was to destroy and "ethnically cleanse" Gospić of Serbs. At the same time, Croatian government used radio and television broadcasts to appeal for "loyal" Serbs to return.
Events of October 1991
On 6 October 1991, members of the local Croatian territorial defence force attended a meeting called by Tihomir Orešković,[clarification needed] the secretary of the Lika district crisis headquarters. The attendees agreed to draw up a list of Serbs who had returned to Gospić, ostensibly to ensure that none were hostile to the Croatian government. However, as a subsequent war crimes trial later determined, the list was actually used to target ethnic Serb community leaders in a systematic mass killing. Reportedly the trigger for making the list was the killing of 30 Croatians by Serbs in a nearby village and the destruction of Gospić's Roman Catholic church.[not in citation given]
The killings were carried out by the Croatian Interior Ministry's First Zagreb Special Unit, nicknamed "Autumn Rains". It was under the authority of Mirko Norac, the commander of Interior Ministry forces in the area, and ultimately was answerable to Interior Minister Ivan Vekić.[better source needed] Between 16 October and 18 October, the unit rounded up mostly, but not exclusively, Serb locals in Gospić, Karlobag, Pazarište and Lipova Glavica, pulling them out of communal bomb shelters and loading them onto military trucks. They were taken away and killed, their bodies later disposed of.
According to Miroslav Bajramović, a former member of the unit:
"Our group executed between 90 and 100 people in less than a month there ... The order for Gospić was: "ethnically cleanse." So we killed the directors of the post office and the hospital, restaurant owners, and other assorted Serbs. The killing was done by shooting at point-blank range, since we did not have much time. I repeat, orders from above were to reduce the percentage of Serbs in Gospić."
It was later determined by a Croatian court that Norac had personally executed a woman during an execution of civilians and, with Orešković, had ordered the killing of at least ten civilians in Pazarište.
Exposing the massacre
The Gospić massacre came to public attention in November 1991 when the Serbian Democratic Forum, a political party representing Croatian Serbs loyal to the Zagreb government, announced that it had received reports of up to 120 "disappearances" in the Gospić area between 17 October 1991 and 1 November 1991. The Croatian government set up a commission of enquiry to investigate the events.[better source needed] Ivan Dasović, the head of the Gospić police department, told investigators about the meeting (which he had attended), the carrying out of the killings and the subsequent celebrations among the perpetrators. Orešković and Norac were named as the main culprits, but the debriefings were kept classified, and the Croatian government then publicly denied that there had been any mass killings at Gospić.
On 1 September 1997, the Croatian newspaper Feral Tribune published a detailed eyewitness account by Bajramović, who said that he had been involved in carrying out the massacre. The confession caused a political outcry in Croatia; Norac's supporters denounced it as an attempt to slander a man whom they saw as a war hero, while the political opposition and human rights groups attacked the government for what they saw as an unjustifiable cover-up. Croatia's president Franjo Tudjman claimed that the war crimes allegations could have been a plot by "some agents provocateurs in order to compromise the Croatian authorities." Bajramović later retracted parts of this confession and was acquitted of murder charges by a Croatian court, which did not satisfy the prosecutors at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), who put considerable political pressure on the Croatian government to re-open the case and bring to justice those responsible for the massacre.
Following Tudjman's death in 1999 and the defeat of his Croatian Democratic Union party in the Croatian parliamentary election of 2000, the new Croatian government sought to investigate war crimes committed by its forces and pledged to cooperate with the ICTY. The new deputy justice minister, Ranko Marijan, expressed dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the Gospić case: "The justice system, together with the police, were hibernating ... I'm not confident that the Croatian police properly conducted their work."
Forensic pathologists from the ICTY were invited to Gospić in May 2000 to examine a suspected mass grave site identified by local people. During a two-week investigation, the team found ten skeletons in a septic tank in the town's largely destroyed Serb area. The killers had gone to some trouble to hide the evidence, having buried the bodies under layers of clay and rubble. Despite finding this prima facie evidence of a crime, the investigators faced considerable hostility from Croatian nationalists. Their visit prompted complaints by the town's mayor and an angry street protest by thousands of Croatian war veterans.
Presiding Judge Ika Šarić of the Rijeka County Court was given the task of establishing a prosecutable case. Over the course of the next year, she and her colleagues tracked down scores of witnesses, travelling to Serbia and Montenegro and other countries in order to obtain their testimony. They also managed to obtain the earlier videotaped debriefing of Ivan Dašović, which had disappeared from Croatian Interior Ministry archives in unexplained circumstances, and had its classification as a state secret removed. The investigation caused anger among some in the Croatian military. Twelve Croatian generals, including Mirko Norac, issued a public statement criticising the government's resolve to prosecute war crimes committed by the Croatian Army. In return, seven of them, holding various posts in the armed forces, were retired by the country's president, Stjepan Mesić.
Prosecutions and convictions
In February 2001, the Croatian State Prosecutor's Office issued an arrest warrant against Norac and several others. The warrant caused an immediate outcry among war veterans, who set up barricades on roads and organised a 100,000-strong demonstration in Split. Norac himself went into hiding but handed himself into custody on 21 February following an agreement with the government that he would not be extradited to the ICTY. He was reported to have said that "The allegations against me are completely unfounded and will easily be disproved in a court of law."[not in citation given] For its part, the ICTY said that it had no indictment against Norac over the Gospić massacre and did not intend to press one, but would leave the matter to the Croatian authorities.
On 5 March 2001, the Rijeka County Court indicted Orešković, Norac, Stjepan Grandić, Ivica Rožić and Milan Čanić on charges of committing war crimes against Serb civilians in and around Gospić in October 1991. The charges alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes against the civilian population and violations of international law. 50 victims were cited (although Serbs[who?] claimed three times as many had been executed), 24 of whom were ethnic Serbs.
The indictment caused further nationalist outrage, and the subsequent trial did not start until 28 January 2002, following lengthy legal arguments. The trial lasted more than 14 months and saw over 150 witnesses testifying, including eighteen survivors who testified in Belgrade. Witness testimony was offered not only by Serb victims but also by Croat soldiers and civilians who had witnessed the abductions and killings in 1991. The trial concluded on 24 March 2003 with the convictions of Orešković, Norac and Grandić. Rožić and Canić were acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence. Orešković was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Norac received 12 years imprisonment and Grandić 10 years.
- Human Rights Development report on former Yugoslavia
- CE Review article on Norac trial
- United Nations/ICTY report on Norac
- Croatia Moves to Expose Its Ugly Secret, Washington Post, 18 May 2000
- EastWest Institute, Annual Survey of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union 1997: The Challenge of Integration, p. 190. M.E. Sharpe, 1998
- "Trial Against Mirko Norac" (PDF). 2 June 2004. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- "A dark side of Croatia not easy to see, let alone recognise", Financial Times, 17 December 1991
- Tanjug report, 29 November 1991
- "Torturer's confessions rock Croatia", The Guardian, 8 September 1997
- Steele, Jonathan (30 September 2000). "Croatia's president gives seven generals their marching orders". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2010.
- "Croatian general rejects war crimes charges", BBC News, 22 February 2001
- "Analysis: Croatia and war crimes", BBC News, 23 February 2001
- "Croat general guilty of executions", BBC News, 24 March 2003