The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia


The International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 is more commonly known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

It is a body of the United Nations Security Council established to prosecute the serious crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars. The tribunal was located in The Hague. The ICTY began its work in 1993 and had jurisdiction over; breaches of the Geneva Convention, violations of laws or customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity. The maximum sentence imposed was life imprisonment.

Whilst the international community did little to prevent the atrocities committed against all sides in Bosnia while they were occurring, it did actively seek justice against those who committed them. 161 people were indicted between its years in operation from 1993 until 31st December 2017 when it formerly ceased to exist. It was the first international tribunal since the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-46 and the first to prosecute genocide, among other war crimes.

By 1993 the international community had attempted to pressure the leaders of the former Yugoslav republics diplomatically, politically, economically and eventually by juridical means. Seventeen states signed the agreement with the ICTY to carry out custodial sentences and so the foundations were laid for the tribunal to establish a legal framework and became the first international court for criminal justice.

In 1994 the ICTY established offices in The Hague and detention facilities in Scheveningen. Field investigations began and the first indictment was presented against Bosnian-Serb concentration camp commander Dragan Nikolic whilst the war continued.

The ICTY published a list of accomplishments in justice and law in 2004;

  1. Spearheading the shift from impunity to accountability
  2. Establishing the facts
  3. Bringing justice to thousands of victims and giving them a voice
  4. The accomplishments in international law
  5. Strengthening the Rule of Law

The indictees ranged from soldiers up to prime ministers with Slobodan Milosevic as the first sitting head of state indicted for war crimes. Brought before the tribunal in 2002 on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, Milosevic served as his own defence lawyer; his poor health led to long delays in the trial until he was found dead in his prison cell in 2006.

In 2007, the International Court of Justice issued its ruling in a historic civil lawsuit brought by Bosnia against Serbia. Though the court recognized that the massacre at Srebrenica was genocide and said that Serbia “could and should” have prevented it and punished those who committed it, it stopped short of declaring Serbia guilty of the genocide itself.

The United Nations Security Council called for the completion of all cases by 2010. The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) was established to assume the residual functions from the ICTY and they ended their mandate. The final ICTY trial was that of Ratko Mladic who was convicted in November 2017 after formally dissolving after 24 years. Arguably changing the landscape of humanitarian law by providing a voice for the victims and bringing those responsible to justice. Showing that criminal behaviour in war is to be subject to international legal accountability and paving the way for a broader international consensus on justice for war crimes.

The ultimate success in hunting down fugitives, however, has taken decades and there has been criticism that the tribunal represented victor’s justice: about two-thirds of those charged were Serbs. Supporters of the court countered that the worst atrocities of the conflict were inflicted by Serb forces on Bosnian civilians.

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