A former Croatian army chief died after denouncing his conviction as a war criminal and promptly drinking poison in front of stunned courtroom viewers.
As the United Nations judge upheld the 20-year sentence for his involvement in crimes during the Bosnian war of the 1990s, Slobodan Praljak drank from a small container and made his own declaration, according to NBC News.
“I just drank poison,” he said. “I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.”
The hearing in the final case at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was being broadcast on a video feed, had to be suspended as paramedics rushed in.
Judge Carmel Agius, who had overturned some of the convictions against Praljak, left the sentence unchanged, He was reading the verdict when the former Bosnian Croat military chief drank the poison.
The 72-year-old former general died in a Dutch hospital later, according to a tribunal spokesman, The New York Times reported.
“Mr. Praljak drank a liquid while in court, and quickly fell ill,” the court said in a statement.
Two other defendants facing the tribunal had committed suicide in the court’s detention cells before Praljak’ took his own life, according to the Times.
“Courtroom one is now a crime scene,” Aguis declared when the hearing resumed a few hours later, according to Sky News.
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Praljak was convicted of involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of Bosnia and create an ethnically pure Croat state during the Bosnian war in the 1990s sparked by the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The conflict mainly saw Bosnian Muslims fighting Bosnian Serbs, but there were also deadly clashes involving Bosnian Muslims and Croats after an alliance fell apart.
A total of 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were displaced in the three-year war.
“We have all unfortunately witnessed his act by which he took his own life,” Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic said.
The original trial, which began in April 2006, involved six Bosnian Croats who unsuccessfully appealed against their convictions, with sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years.
Established by the UN in 1993, the court is has indicted 161 suspects, of which 90 have been convicted.