Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Legacy of the ICTY

by Igor Petrovich

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established on May 25, 1993 at the height of the Bosnian War. While the ICTY is scheduled to formally finish its work two years from now (on December 31, 2014), the vast majority of the work has already been completed with only the trials of Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, and Goran Hadžić still left to conclude. Over the past 20 years, the ICTY has indicted 161 people. It is generally seen as one of the pioneering forces in international criminal law and can serve as a blueprint for the international community in order to prosecute future human rights violations.

Several years ago, one of the biggest criticisms of the ICTY was been the slow pace of proceedings. It will take twenty years for the Tribunal to conclude its work and it took over a decade for a number of convictions to occur. However, some of this criticism is no longer warranted now that Karadžić and Mladić have been arrested and are currently on trial in the Hague.

While the legal maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” may hold true, the ICTY has laid the structural groundwork for future human rights trials and can serve to prevent future victims from having justice delayed – and therefore denied. Though the ICTY may have been slow in obtaining the convictions, 161 people have been indicted, so it is unfair to say that the Tribunal has not been effective - especially keeping in mind that, as the Economist points out, the ICTY was “the first international court of its kind since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after the second world war.”  

Perhaps the lasting legacy of the ICTY will be the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT). The MICT’s goal is to track and prosecute remaining fugitives, handle the appeals process and retrials, and to provide assistance to national jurisdictions in both the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in order to ensure that even after the Tribunals are concluded, there is a framework in place to ensure that human rights violators can – and will – be held accountable. As Theodor Meron, the ICTY President stated, "By establishing the Residual Mechanism, the Council has helped to guarantee that the closure of the two pioneering ad hoc tribunals does not open the way for impunity to reign once more." The MICT can serve as a guide post to ensure that future trials proceed quickly and that those who commit atrocities are held accountable, and to provide justice to those who have been wronged at a much faster rate than has been the case in the past. We have already seen this hope be actualized in the tribunals which have followed the ICTY, such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone where Charles Taylor has been indicted.

Last month, conferences on the ICTY legacy were held in Sarajevo, Zagreb, and Belgrade. In Zagreb, ICTY Vice-President Judge Carmel Agius addressed the legacy of the ICTY directly by stating,

"The legacy of the Tribunal will be fulfilled when this generation succeeds in facing the past and passing on the lessons learnt in the wake of the war and its aftermath to your children and grandchildren. There is no peace without justice and justice means justice to everyone: perpetrators and victims. You owe this to yourselves, your country, the region and the future generations. This is the main substance of our legacy to you."

Now, twenty years after the end of violent conflict, an entire generation has grown up in the former Yugoslavia with no memory of the war. The ICTY, using the ongoing conferences to discuss human rights violations, can use its record of success to reach out to the youth and to try to address the negative views held toward the ICTY in order to move the region forward. While the legacy of the war is still a very difficult subject to deal with, the completion of the ICTY's work can give way to a more optimistic future for the region, highlighted by Croatia's accession to the EU in 2013, Serbia's official EU candidate status this past March,, and Bosnia's expected candidacy in 2014. 

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