Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

One year after the U.N. Security Council created an international criminal tribunal in 1994 to try war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, the tribunal charged twenty-one Serbs for war crimes.

Summary of Event

After World War I, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was established with Belgrade as the capital, recognizing the dominance of the former Serbia within a multiethnic state with several provinces. In 1929, the country was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During World War II, some of the ethnic provinces fought on opposite sides of the war, but afterward the country was held together by the charismatic Tito Tito (Josip Broz). International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Yugoslavia;human rights abuses Human rights;international law Racial and ethnic conflict;Yugoslavia United Nations;international courts [kw]Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (Feb. 13, 1995) [kw]International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Serbs Face Charges at the (Feb. 13, 1995) [kw]Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal (Feb. 13, 1995) [kw]Yugoslavia, Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for (Feb. 13, 1995) International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Yugoslavia;human rights abuses Human rights;international law Racial and ethnic conflict;Yugoslavia United Nations;international courts [g]Europe;Feb. 13, 1995: Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia[09140] [g]Balkans;Feb. 13, 1995: Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia[09140] [g]Netherlands;Feb. 13, 1995: Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia[09140] [g]Yugoslavia;Feb. 13, 1995: Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia[09140] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Feb. 13, 1995: Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia[09140] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Feb. 13, 1995: Serbs Face Charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia[09140] Goldstone, Richard Milošević, Slobodan Karadžić, Radovan Mladić, Ratko Tadić, Dušan

The new Serbian leadership was unable to cope with separatist tendencies in the provinces after Tito died in 1980, and in 1991 Slovenia declared independence. When Croatia followed suit later that year, Belgrade ordered the Yugoslav army to stop the secession, but a peace agreement allowing independence for Croatia was obtained through mediation by the United Nations. When a referendum in Bosnia and Herzegovina agreed to independence in 1992, the Serbian population in the country began to carve a new state inside Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska (or Serb Republic), with military support from Serbia. In 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina charged Serbia with war crimes at the International Court of Justice International Court of Justice in The Hague; although the court twice ordered provisional measures, requiring Belgrade to stop supporting genocidal actions, Serbia did not comply.

Massive violations of international human rights law associated with “ethnic cleansing,” a euphemism for genocide, during the wars in the former Yugoslavia led the U.N. Security Council to try conciliation in 1991, condemnation in 1992, and then adoption of a statute in 1994 for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia Since 1991, commonly known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

In 1995, in defiance of the United Nations, Republika Srpska troops engaged in ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in Srebrenica, one of the cities that the U.N. Security Council had designated as a “safe haven.” Some eight-thousand men were slaughtered, and twelve-thousand women and children were expelled from the town.

In response, Richard Goldstone, chief ICTY prosecutor, indicted twenty-one Serbs for war crimes. The first ICTY indictment was against Dušan Tadić for his role in rounding up and killing Croats and Muslims in the Omarska concentration camp in 1992. After his arrest in Germany, he was tried and found guilty in 1997 of most of the thirty-four counts in the indictment. Despite various appeals, he was sentenced to a twenty-year prison term within Germany.

The most famous cases involve Republika Srpska leaders of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, who were indicted in 1995 for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre that year. Both remained at large, along with eight others who were indicted; the rest were placed in the custody of the court, which is located at The Hague, pending the outcome of their trials. Most charges in the indictments involved violations of the Geneva Conventions, which were reiterated in the ICTY statute. In particular, the charges were cruel and inhuman treatment, deportation, forcible sexual intercourse and mutilation, injury to body and health, murder, persecution on ethnic or religious grounds, torture, and unlawful confinement.

However, more war crimes resumed in 1995, when the Serbian army entered the province of Kosovo to subdue another independence movement. As violence escalated in 1998, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airplanes bombed Serbia, which then agreed to an armistice. After the Kosovo independence movement broke the cease-fire in 1999, Serbian troops went into Kosovo with the apparent intention of killing as many Kosovars (ethnic Albanians) as possible, or so it seemed, when forty-five Kosovars were massacred in Račak. As a result, the European Union imposed economic sanctions, and the United States demanded another armistice. In 1999, Serbia rejected terms of a proposed peace agreement, which would give NATO unlimited access within Kosovo as well as Serbia. NATO forces then bombed Serbia into suing for peace. The United Nations then took over the civilian administration of Kosovo, so the ICTY had more war criminals to pursue. In 2000, Slobodan Milošević was voted out as president of Serbia in an election marred by irregularities, leading to street protests and Milošević’s resignation. He was handed over to the ICTY in 2001 as a condition of having multilateral sanctions lifted from Serbia.

In 2005, the court indicted four Croatian journalists for contempt of court after they published testimony of two protected witnesses in an ongoing trial. Other Croats have been charged with war crimes, and the Kosovo War has resulted in charges against Kosovars.

By the end of 2006, the ICTY had found fifty-three persons guilty; they were serving sentences from three years to life. By that date, five had been found not guilty; one had committed suicide. Some appeals caused reductions in the years of the sentences. Also in 2006, Milošević died while in custody at The Hague in the midst of his trial.

Significance

In 1994, the U.N. Security Council also drafted a statute for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and in 1998 the International Criminal Court was established to provide a common tribunal for war crimes worldwide. Special national war crimes tribunals were established with U.N. assistance in East Timor (2000), Sierra Leone (2002), Cambodia (2003), and Iraq (2004).

The ICTY has developed important legal principles in the field of international criminal law. For example, to find a commander guilty of crimes committed by subordinates, a prosecutor must demonstrate not only vicarious liability but also subjective awareness (or aiding and abetting). After the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the tribunal, for the first time in history, chose to prosecute rape as a war crime in 1997.

The ICTY has forced those in the former Yugoslavia to rethink the past. The tribunal has aided in reconciliation by enabling victims to come forward to share their stories and by disqualifying from political life those who committed heinous acts. In early 2004, the U.N. Security Council asked the ICTY to finish investigations by the end of the year, trials by 2008, and appeals by 2010. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia Yugoslavia;human rights abuses Human rights;international law Racial and ethnic conflict;Yugoslavia United Nations;international courts

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bass, Gary Jonathan. Stay the Hand of Justice: The Politics of War Crimes Tribunals. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. Review of war crimes trials to determine whether true justice can emerge from tribunals that have been created within a highly political context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cigar, Norman, Paul Williams, and Banac Ivo. Indictment at the Hague: The Milošević Regime and Crimes of the Balkan Wars. New York: New York University Press, 2002. Assembles documentary evidence to demonstrate the culpability of Milošević for war crimes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Honig, Jan Willem, and Norbert Both. Srebrenica: Record of a War Crime. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Presents detailed descriptions of the atrocities that led to the formation of the ICTY.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Human Rights Watch. Genocide, War Crimes, and Crimes Against Humanity: A Topical Digest of the Case Law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. New York: Author, 2006. Provides a comprehensive guide to the proceedings before the ICTY.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rieff, David. Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Points out that efforts to stop war crimes in Bosnia came too late.

Ethnic Violence Erupts in Yugoslavian Provinces

Civil War Begins in Yugoslavia

United Nations Authorizes Troop Deployment to the Balkans

Dayton Negotiations Produce Bosnian Peace Accord

Kosovo Conflict Escalates

Hague Court Convicts Bosnian Croats of 1993 Massacre

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