Special Report

on the International Criminal Tribunal

for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for Bosnia and Herzegovina


  1. Background
  2. Establishment and Mandate
  3. Cases of ICTY on Bosnian war
  4. Conclusion


1- Background

In 1946 after the Second World War the People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the constituent republics of the Federal People’s (from 1963, Socialist Federal) Republic of Yugoslavia, and life in Bosnia and Herzegovina underwent all the social, economic, and political changes that were imposed on the whole of Yugoslavia by its new communist government. Under the Republic of Yugoslavia newly joined Bosnia and Herzegovina was particularly affected by the abolition of many traditional Muslim institutions, such as the Qurʾānic primary schools, rich charitable foundations, and Dervish religious orders.

In the 1980s the rapid decline of the Yugoslavian economy led to widespread public dissatisfaction with the political system. Independent political parties appeared by 1989. In early 1990, multiparty elections were held in Slovenia and Croatia. When elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina in December, new parties representing the three national communities gained seats in rough proportion to their populations. A tripartite coalition government was formed, with the Bosnian politician Alija Izetbegović leading a joint presidency. Growing tensions both inside and outside Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, made cooperation with the Serb Democratic Party, led by Radovan Karadžić, increasingly difficult. In 1991 several self-styled “Serb Autonomous Regions” were declared in areas of Bosnia and Herzegovina with large Serb populations. Evidence emerged that the Yugoslav People’s Army was being used to send secret arms deliveries to the Bosnian Serbs from Belgrade (Serbia). By then full-scale war had broken out in Croatia, and the breakup of Yugoslavia was under way. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s position became highly vulnerable. The possibility of partitioning Bosnia and Herzegovina had been discussed during talks between the Croatian president, Franjo Tudjman, and the Serbian president, Slobodan Milošević. When Bosnia and Herzegovina’s independence was recognized by the United States and the EC on April 7, Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces immediately began firing on Sarajevo, and the artillery bombardment of the city by Bosnian Serb units of the Yugoslav army began soon thereafter. During April many of the towns in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina with large Bosniak populations, such as Zvornik, Foča, and Višegrad, were attacked by a combination of paramilitary forces and Yugoslav army units. This triggered one the wars that modern history of Balkans and East Europe has seen, it is considered as one of the most brutal crimes against a whole nation that was seeking freedom as all other neighboring nations did. The war crimes in the Bosnian War tantamount to “Genocide” and “ethnic Cleansing” in the heart of Europe, committed by Serb Generals such as Radko Mladic with direct orders from the head of  State Slobodan Milošević acting as Serbian President that time. Later was brought to trial under this tribunal.

The crimes committed in Bosnia war of 1992 – 1995 were very serious crimes. These crimes included widespread and serious crimes against civilians, prisoners of war, and civilian property. Killing, torture, rape, forcible displacement, and indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on civilian targets were commonplace. Though several key indictees still remain at large, the trials at the ICTY have sent a powerful message that leaders who are responsible for the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide must face justice for their crimes.

2- Establishment and Mandate

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is formed under the United Nations court of law dealing with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990’s. Since its establishment in 1993, it has irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law and provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced. In its precedent-setting decisions on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Tribunal has shown that an individual’s senior position can no longer protect them from prosecution. It has now shown that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed can be called to account, as well as that guilt should be individualized, protecting entire communities from being labelled as “collectively responsible”.

The Tribunal has laid the foundations for what is now the accepted norm for conflict resolution and post-conflict development across the globe, specifically which leaders suspected of mass crimes will face justice. The Tribunal has proved that efficient and transparent international justice is possible. The Tribunal has contributed to an indisputable historical record, combating denial and helping communities come to terms with their recent history. Crimes across the region can no longer be denied. For example, it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the mass murder at Srebrenica was genocide.

In May 1993, the Tribunal was established by the United Nations in response to mass atrocities then taking place in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Reports depicting horrendous crimes, in which thousands of civilians were being killed and wounded, tortured and sexually abused in detention camps and hundreds of thousands expelled from their homes, caused outrage across the world and spurred the UN Security Council to act.  The ICTY was the first war crimes court created by the UN and the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. It was established by the Security Council in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The key objective of the ICTY is to try those individuals most responsible for appalling acts such as murder, torture, rape, enslavement, destruction of property and other crimes listed in the Tribunal’s Statute. By bringing perpetrators to trial, the ICTY aims to deter future crimes and render justice to thousands of victims and their families, thus contributing to a lasting peace in the former Yugoslavia. Situated in The Hague, the Netherlands, the ICTY has charged over 160 persons. Those indicted by the ICTY include heads of state, prime ministers, army chiefs-of-staff, interior ministers and many other high- and mid-level political, military and police leaders from various parties to the Yugoslav conflicts. Its indictments address crimes committed from 1991 to 2001 against members of various ethnic groups in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Thus, in this report only cases that cover the Bosnian Tribunal will be included.

3- Cases of ICTY on Bosnian War Crimes

The establishment of the tribunal was done at the times when the war in Bosnia was still very fresh and ongoing. The UN protection force (UNPROFOR) deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina however it did not manage to control security on the ground and often Serb and other warring parties refused to permit Tribunal investigators access to reported crime scenes or witnesses, because most of the protection units were place over Muslim population to control them as they did in Srebrenica, whereas on the Serb majority places there was no international peace keepers. In order to bring the accused before the tribunal the prosecutor had a very tough job to build a solid case.  The first judges arrived at the Tribunal in November 1993; there were no rules of procedure, no cases and no prosecutor. The first prosecutor arrived in August 1994, the judges had drafted the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, and the Deputy Prosecutor had set up the structures of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), recruited the first investigators and begun mounting investigations in what was, in some cases, hostile territory.

Table 1, Legal Proceedings[1]

The first person to be tried was under the ICTY was Dusan TADIC a/k/a ” Duško”, participated in the collection and mistreatment, including killings, of Bosnian Muslims and Croats in opstina Prijedor within Omarska camp and outside Omarska camp. The accused Goran BOROVNICA participated with Dusan TADIC in killings outside of Omarska camp. Which caused the death of more than 800 civilians – a considerable part of the entire population of about 4’000 people. It was important for the ICTY to demonstrate that international prosecutions were a reality. The first investigations centered on the reported widespread and horrific attacks on Bosnian Muslims and Croats in the Prijedor area of northwestern Bosnia, and the first case before the ICTY concentrated particularly on the notorious Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje Serb-run detention camps.

Many of the early indictments were issued against relatively low and intermediate level alleged perpetrators whom eyewitness survivors and victims had identified as committing crimes in camps and similar locations. However, this so-called ‘pyramid’ approach, where low-ranking military and other officials are held to account for their actions, would over time enable investigators to build up cases against their superiors and ultimately the main architects of the crimes. With the indictment of the Bosnian Serb military and political leaders Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić in 1995, considered as the top of Pyramid a consistent pattern of obstruction towards the Tribunal was established by Bosnian Serb authorities. They were not alone in their refusal to arrest and transfer suspects or meet their obligations towards the Tribunal. Both Croatia and Serbia obstructed the Tribunal’s work, with the authorities in Belgrade demonstrating the most consistent open hostility towards the ICTY. The Tribunal’s indictment of Mladić and Karadžić less than two and half years after its establishment demonstrated how far the Tribunal had developed in investigating and building credible charges against military and political leaders. The Tribunal’s indictment of Mladić and Karadžić less than two and half years after its establishment demonstrated how far the Tribunal had developed in investigating and building credible charges against military and political leaders. A further negative matter impacting on the Tribunal’s work was the consistent refusal of Serb authorities in the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the regime in Belgrade, to cooperate with the Tribunal. Not only did they conceal and withhold information but they refused to provide materials or any relevant information to Tribunal investigators endeavoring to investigate crimes allegedly committed against Serbs.  Thus ICTY trials have to go many difficult stages due to the deliberate obstructions put forward by the Serbs and Croatians.

A blow for the prosecution and the Tribunal as a whole was the suicide in the Tribunal’s Detention Unit of Slavko Dokmanović in June 1997. Dokmanović hung himself after the completion of the trial and on the eve of the verdict being handed down by judges. A similar situation occurred in the final verdicts of ICTY where a former Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak died after drinking a phial of poison while standing in the dock at a UN tribunal, his war crimes sentence of 20 years was upheld. The convict seconds after the judges had delivered their decision at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), shouted out angrily: “Praljak is not a criminal. I reject your verdict.”  Praljak is not the last defendant to die in ICTY custody at The Hague. The former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babić in the nearby Scheveningen detention center in 2006 killed himself to escape serving the prison.

Srebrenica is the name of a town synonymous with the conflict that devastated the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It is a name that conjures up images of families being torn apart, of people forced onto buses with an unknown destination, of terrified, blindfolded men being led to their deaths, killed methodically solely on the basis of their identity; and of the grieving mothers, wives, sisters and daughters left behind. The ICTY was the first international criminal tribunal to enter convictions for genocide in Europe. In April 2004, in the case of Radislav Krstić, the Appeals Chamber determined that genocide was committed in Srebrenica in 1995, through the execution of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys following the take-over of the town by Bosnian Serb forces. Several other completed ICTY cases relating to the Srebrenica events have ensured that the genocide has been well documented and, in the words of ICTY President Theodor Meron, “consigned to infamy”. But alongside the deep and lasting injury inflicted on the Bosnian Muslims of Srebrenica, the town is now emblematic of the resolve of the international community to call the killings committed there by their proper name: genocide. Srebrenica is a solemn warning sounded by the Tribunal that those who commit this inhumane crime will not escape justice.

A total of 161 persons were indicted in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY. Since the arrest of Goran Hadžić on 20 July 2011, there are no indictees remaining at large. The ICTY announced a verdict in its last ongoing case on November 22, 2017: Ratko Mladić, sentenced to life imprisonment, eight cases on listed as on appeal as of November, 2017. 13 defendants were transferred to other local courts.

4- Conclusion

The ICTY has ceased operating in last November 2017. The ICTY final stage was focused on the most senior leaders suspected of being responsible for crimes within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. It has transferred cases against intermediate and lower-level accused to competent national jurisdictions. Domestic prosecutors and courts can also initiate cases without any involvement by the ICTY.

The ICTY is a landmark institution where International criminal prosecution is now a reality. A tremendous amount of work and effort has already been done and the momentum must not be lost coming years, where many conflicts are still ongoing.

[1] Source: http://www.icty.org/en/about/tribunal/legal-proceedings

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