(CNN)As the judge at The Hague read out a verdict confirming Slobodan Praljak’s 20-year prison term for war crimes, the white-bearded former Bosnian Croat general rose to his feet.
“Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I am rejecting your verdict with contempt,” Praljak shouted defiantly.
He then tilted his head back and drank from a small vial. As the judge appealed for him to sit down, Praljak declared: “I have taken poison.”
The judge, looking disconcerted, suspended proceedings. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia confirmed later Wednesday that Praljak had been given immediate medical help in the courtroom before being taken to the hospital, where he died.
Authorities in the Netherlands were on Thursday urgently investigating what the substance was and how Praljak was able to obtain it while being held in UN detention.
The dramatic courtroom scene unfolded as the work of the UN tribunal, set up to prosecute crimes committed during conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990s, came to a close after more than 20 years.
Wednesday’s appeal hearing, which reaffirmed the sentences imposed in 2013 on Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croat leaders for crimes against humanity and war crimes and almost all their convictions, was the tribunal’s final ruling and it will formally close at the end of the year.
Significantly, the appeal judges upheld the earlier trial’s findings that implicated the Croatian regime under then-President Franjo Tudjman in a criminal conspiracy with the goal of “ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population” of parts of Bosnia to ensure Croatian domination.
The Bosnian Croat leadership, along with Croat leaders, wanted to make this territory part of a “Greater Croatia,” the ICTY said when the case first went through the court.