The Gospić massacre took place between 16 October - 18 October 1991 in the town of Gospić, a city in the district of Lika in Croatia. The massacre came three days after the massacre in the village (11 kilometers away) of Široka Kula. Between 23 and 100 local civilians (mostly Serbs) were murdered by members of a Croatian military unit. A Croatian county court later cited 50 people were killed; almost half (24) were ethnic Serbs. Although Miroslav Bajramović admitted to responsibility for the deaths of 90 to 100 people, almost all Serbs, Serbian sources claim that 150 Serbs disappeared. The commander of the unit, Mirko Norac, was convicted in 2003, along with four others, his involvement in the massacre.
Gospić had always been a a predominantly Croatian city, which had a large ethnic Serb minority, however many Serbs fled during the war as the former Yugoslavia disintegrated. The Croatian government used radio and television broadcasts to appeal for "loyal" Serbs to return.
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 killed a woman during an execution of civilians and, with Orešković, had ordered the killing of at least ten civilians in Pazarište.
On 1 September 1997, the Croatian newspaper Feral Tribune published a detailed eyewitness account by Miroslav 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 Tuđman 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 his confession and was acquitted of murder charges by a Croatian court. However, this 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.
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. As a result, they were sacked by the country's president, Stjepan Mesić.
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, of whom almost half (24) were identified as 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 conviction of Orešković, Norac and Grandić. Rožić and Canić were acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence. Orešković was sentenced to imprisonment for 15 years, with Norac receiving 12 years and Grandić 10 years.