A United Nations war crimes tribunal Friday overturned the convictions of two former Croatian generals who were found guilty last year of various crimes against humanity during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, and ordered that they be released immediately.
Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were convicted in April 2011 by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which sits in The Hague.
They were found guilty by the trial chamber of committing crimes against humanity - including murder, persecutions, deportation and plunder - and violations of the laws or customs of war, from July to September 1995, by participating in a joint criminal enterprise to permanently and forcibly remove the Serb civilian population from the Krajina region of Croatia.
Gotovina, who commanded the Split military district of the Croatian army from 1992 to 1996, was sentenced to 24 years in prison. Markac, who served as the Assistant Interior Minister in charge of Special Police matters after 1994, was jailed for 18 years.
In Friday's ruling, the Tribunal's appeals chamber found that the trial chamber erred in concluding that all artillery impact sites located more than 200 metres from a target deemed legitimate served as evidence of unlawful attacks against towns in the Krajina region of Croatia.
"A majority of the appeals chamber further concluded that the trial chamber erred in finding that artillery attacks ordered by Gotovina and Markač were unlawful," stated a news release issued by the Tribunal.
"The majority also held that the trial chamber erred in finding the existence of a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was the permanent and forcible removal of Serb civilians from the Krajina region," it added.
As a result, the court reversed all of the convictions of the two men, and ordered their immediate release.
The ICTY was tasked by the Security Council with trying those responsible for the worst war crimes and other breaches of international humanitarian law committed during the various conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Since its inception 19 years ago, the Tribunal has indicted 161 persons.
In other action Friday, the court upheld the conviction of Jelena Raic, who was found guilty in February of this year of having knowingly and wilfully interfered with the administration of justice by procuring false witness statements in exchange for money.
The court also upheld the 12-month prison sentence for Raic, a member of the legal team of Milan Lukic, a Bosnian Serb who was sentenced in 2010 by the trial chamber to life imprisonment for crimes committed in the eastern Bosnian town of Viegrad.