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Trial in Bosnian War Crimes Chamber
Trial in Bosnian War Crimes Chamber

"Justice is an indispensable ingredient of the process of national reconciliation. It is essential to the restoration of peaceful and normal relations between people who have had to live under a reign of terror. It breaks the cycle of violence, hatred and extra-judicial retribution. Thus, Peace and Justice go hand-in-hand."

Antonio Cassese, former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia

The ICTY (The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) is the first international body for the prosecution of war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals held after of World War II. It has jurisdiction over individuals responsible for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. It operates from a specially converted building in The Hague. After 2010, the prosecution of all Bosnian war criminals will take place in Bosnia as the ICTY will cease its work.

The ICTY has first struggled to establish itself, but has since inspired war crimes tribunals covering Rwanda, Sierra Leone, East Timor, and Cambodia, as well as the court in Sarajevo.

The ICTY’s combined budget for 2006 and 2007 was $297 million. Staff numbers range from 900-1,000 at any one time. As of 25 March 2008 the ICTY has indicted 161 persons. Proceedings against 50 people are ongoing. 9 persons have been acquitted; 53 people were sentenced; 13 were referred to national jurisdictions; 20 indictments were withdrawn; and 16 died before or after transfer to ICTY.

The ICTY has focused on trying senior perpetrators, following criticism of its early policy of going after minor figures. Faced with limited resources and the ad-hoc nature of the tribunal, judges argued that serious violations meant that the most senior perpetrators should be targeted.

Milosevic on trial

The most high-profile trial was that of former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, which began in February 2002. His trial was dogged by procedural wrangling, with Milosevic conducting his own case. Milosevic died in his cell on 11 March 2006.

Supporter of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic with their poster

ICTY Chief Prosecutors have repeatedly exhorted authorities in the Balkans to arrest the two biggest perpetrators of war crimes in Bosnia: Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs and military commander Ratko Mladic. Karadzic was finally captured in Serbia in July 2008. The two have been indicted for genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war.

The prosecution of indicted Bosnian war criminals is also taking place in the BiH Court's new War Crimes Chamber (WCC) in Sarajevo, set up as a joint initiative of the ICTY and the Office of the High Representative (OHR).

The ICTY aims to complete all its trials in The Hague – and to conclude its work – by 2011.

The WCC has jurisdiction over cases referred by ICTY and over the most sensitive war crimes cases in Bosnia. It can refer other cases to lower courts in BiH.

There are 18 prosecutors dealing with war crimes. In summer 2008 there were 53 judges – 36 national and 17 international – at the BiH Court. Just under a third of their time is spent trying war crimes. In such cases, judges sit in panels of three. By 2010 – the end of the first five-years of operation – all international staff in the War Crimes Chamber are due be replaced by Bosnians.

Neđo Samard

June 2008

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