War Criminal 'Drinks Poison' After Court Upholds Verdict for Atrocities Against Bosnian Muslims

A wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces, Slobodan Praljak is seen during a hearing at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands, on November 29. ICTY/via Reuters TV

The final hearing of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was abruptly suspended Wednesday after a Bosnian Croat military leader said he drank poison in protest at U.N. judges upholding his 20-year sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims.

Slobodan Praljak was asked to stand at the deck as presiding judge Carmel Agius read the verdict. Praljak uttered a few words in Croatian as he brought what appeared to be a small transparent flask or glass to his lips.

"Honorable judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal, and I accept your verdict with utter disgust," he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

But his words were not immediately translated to the court, so the judge simply asked him to stop what he was doing and sit down, looking puzzled for a moment before moving on to reading the next defendant's verdict.

"I have taken poison," a female interpreter can then be heard saying in English.

"Our client says he drank poison this morning," another female interpreter can be heard saying in French, translating Praljak's lawyer's remarks.

The judge then called for the hearing to be suspended as paramedics were called to the scene.

By that point, Praljak was out of shot of the cameras, but a security guard told the media that Praljak was still alive.

"He is receiving all necessary medical attention," the unnamed guard added, without providing further details, quoted in Deutsche Welle.

Reuters reported a Croatian general telling local media he spoke to the wife of one of the defendants, who confirmed Praljak drank poison and was in a serious condition.

But there has been no official statement regarding the substance Praljak drank, and it is unclear how he could have smuggled poison inside the heavily guarded courtroom.

The 72-year-old former commander of the Bosnian forces during the 1992 to 1995 conflict was one of six military and political officials receiving appeal sentences Wednesday, which was due to be the last session of the international tribunal set up by the United Nations in 1993 with the motto "bringing war criminals to justice and justice to the victims."

Among Praljak's charges was the destruction of the iconic 16th-century bridge in the Bosnian city of Mostar in November 1993, which was eventually rebuilt in 2004 but at the time "caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population," the judges noted in the 2013 verdict. He was also found to have facilitated and/or concealed his armed forces' killing of the Muslim civilian population, including the Stupni Do massacre.

The war crimes tribunal is set to close its doors at the end of 2017. In its 24-year existence, it has indicted 161 suspects, 90 of whom were convicted of committing war crimes in former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.

Last week, the tribunal found former Bosnian Serb army general Ratko Mladic, known as the "butcher of Bosnia," guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Bosnian Muslims. The former leader of the Serb republic in Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic, was sentenced in 2016 to 40 years imprisonment after being found guilty of 10 of the 11 counts of war crimes, including genocide in Srebrenica.