The Balkans is a region in southern Europe that stretches from Croatia to Bulgaria and derives its names from the Balkan Mountains. The region was invaded in the 14th century by the Ottoman Empire, which ruled for nearly 500 years. In 1878, the signing of the Treaty of Berlin redefined the Balkan political boundaries and created many of the region's independent states, including Serbia, Montenegro, Romania and Bulgaria. The First Balkan War was sparked in 1912 by the formation of an anti-Ottoman alliance by Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a member of Mlada Bosnia, a Serbian pro-Yugoslav revolutionary group. The assassination was a catalyst for the First World War.
The end of WWI engendered the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of what would become Yugoslavia. The Corfu Declaration, signed by the exiled Serbian Parliament on July 20, 1917, created the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. The state was renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on October 3, 1929. In the subsequent decades, it underwent several changes in name and governmental structure before the region splintered during the Yugoslav Wars.
The Yugoslav Wars were the culmination of a gradual disintegration of the Yugoslavian federal government following the Axis invasion in World War II. By the 1990s, the region lacked any real authority at the federal level, which consisted of representatives from the region's six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. The governmental instability along with the rapid growth of nationalism among the region's ethnic groups eventually resulted in the secessions of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991. The secessions were deemed illegal by Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Marković and the resulting conflict escalated into the Ten-Day War, the first of the Yugoslav Wars. Fought primarily between revolutionaries and the central government, the wars were further complicated by the bitter feuds between the region's various ethnic groups.
The Yugoslav wars are known especially for the egregious war crimes committed, including mass murder, rape and genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established [PDF] by the United Nations in 1993 to handle litigation relating to war crimes that took place during the wars. It was the first war crimes court created by the United Nations. The ICTY was proposed [PDF] on February 22, 1993 by UN Security Council Resolution 808 and formally created [PDF] on May 25, 1993 by UN Security Council Resolution 827. The court is situated in the Hague, the Netherlands, and it has jurisdiction over four areas: breaches of the Geneva Conventions, violations of the laws and customs of war, genocide and crimes against humanity. The maximum sentence it can levy is life in prison.
The United Nations Security Council aims for the ICTY to complete its work by 2016.