Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

War Crimes Trials Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Introduction to Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

The United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in May 1993 to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Originally set up to prosecute crimes resulting from the wars of Yugoslav succession (1991-1995), the tribunal also has addressed crimes occurring in the late 1990s as the result of a separatist movement in Kosovo, a province in southwestern Serbia. The tribunal convenes at The Hague, Netherlands. It consists of 14 judges from different nations and has the power to impose a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

War in the former Yugoslavia began in July 1991 after Slovenia and Croatia-two of six republics in the country-declared their independence. Other republics followed, touching off a conflict that lasted for more than four years. During the war, between 100,000 and 250,000 people were killed and an estimated 200,000 were wounded. Evidence surfaced that many were the victims of ethnic cleansing-efforts to remove all members of a particular ethnic group from territories occupied by other ethnic groups. Thousands of people were found in mass graves near Srebrenica, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina; Vukovar, a city in eastern Croatia; Prijedor, a city in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina; and Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There was also evidence of rape and other atrocities.

The separatist movement in Kosovo began in 1991 when ethnic Albanians, who made up more than 90 percent of the province’s population, started to agitate for secession from Serbia. In 1992 Serbia and Montenegro proclaimed themselves the successor state to the former Yugoslavia and took the name Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). In 1996 a militant separatist group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) began attacks on Serbian police forces in an attempt to gain independence. In early 1998 the Serbs, with the help of FRY army units, began a major crackdown on the separatists. In March 1999, after settlement negotiations proved unsuccessful, members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) began a campaign of air strikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were displaced from Kosovo and many refugees reported mass killings and other atrocities.

Among the many individuals indicted by the ICTY have been several high-ranking members of the Bosnian Serb leadership, including Radovan Karad_i_, former president of the Bosnian Serb Republic, and Serbian army general Ratko Mladic. However, the work of the tribunal has been hampered by lack of cooperation from most of the governments in the region where the conflicts occurred, making it difficult for the tribunal to apprehend the people it indicted. The first trial of the tribunal opened in May 1996. In 1998 the tribunal became the first international court to find an individual accountable for rape as a war crime.

In mid-1999 the tribunal set another first by indicting an active head of state, President Slobodan Milo_evi_ of the FRY. The tribunal charged Milo_evi_ and four other top Serbian or Yugoslav officials with war crimes and crimes against humanity based on alleged atrocities in Kosovo. Specifically, the indictment charged the five individuals with conducting a “campaign of terror and violence directed at Kosovo Albanian civilians.” In 2001 the Serbian government, responding to international pressure, extradited Milo_evi_ to the war crimes tribunal, despite a ruling by the Yugoslav Constitutional Court to stop his handover.

Later that year the tribunal found a former Bosnian Serb regional commander, General Radislav Krstic, guilty of genocide for his role in the massacre of thousands of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. The conviction was the first time the tribunal established that genocide was committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An appeals chamber of the tribunal overruled that verdict in 2004, changing Krstic’s conviction to “aiding and abetting genocide.” The 2004 ruling also established beyond doubt that the massacre at Srebrenica was an act of genocide, conclusively laying to rest all claims that no genocide had occurred in Bosnia.

In 2001 the tribunal also convicted three former Bosnian Serb soldiers of systematically raping and torturing Bosniak women and girls, the first time individuals were convicted of rape as a crime against humanity. The court found that Bosnian Serb soldiers used rape as “an instrument of terror” and convicted two of the men of enslavement for forcibly detaining women and girls as sex slaves and loaning or selling them to others for sexual abuse. The trial established sexual enslavement as a war crime.

In late 2001 the tribunal charged Milo_evi_ with additional war crimes for his role in the forcible removal of the majority of non-Serbs from parts of Croatia in 1991 and 1992 and from large areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. He also faced a charge of genocide in connection with the killing or inhumane confinement of thousands of Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats, and other non-Serb civilians during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Milo_evi_’s trial before the tribunal began in February 2002 but was repeatedly delayed because of his poor health. Milo_evi_ died in March 2006 before the trial could be completed.” (1)


Notes and References

Guide to Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia