International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

History of the Region

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.

History of the Court

The ICTY delivered [PDF] its first indictment ever against Dragan Nikolic, the director of the Serb-run Susica Detention Camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in November 1994. He was accused of committing crimes against non-Serbs, including sexual violence and torture. After he pleaded guilty in September 2003, his sentence was later reduced from 23 years to 20 years.

Indicted in November 1995, Radovan Kardazic and Ratko Mladic were major figures in the Srebrenica genocide. Neither man was immediately apprehended. After a global manhunt, Kardazic was captured in May 2008. His formal indictment detailed [PDF] his involvement in an organized plan to commit genocide against Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Kardazic's trial began in October 2009, and it is ongoing. Mladic proved even more elusive, evading capture until 2011. His indictment included [PDF] charges of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and inhumane acts. His trial began in May 2012.

ICTY judgments have also included acquittals. Charged with breaching the Geneva Conventions, Zejnil Delalic was acquitted in November 1998. Initially found guilty of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war in April 2011, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac had their convictions overturned on appeal to the Appeals Chamber of the ICTY in November 2012, because the artillery impact evidence used by the trial court was deemed insufficient to convict the men of targetting towns in the Krajina region of Croatia.

The highest-profile ICTY trial to date was that of Slobodan Milosevic, the President of Serbia from 1989 until 1997 and the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1997 until 2000. In May 1999, Milosevic was the first sitting head of state to be indicted by an international tribunal. His formal charges included [PDF] genocide, murder, torture, unlawful confinement, inhumane acts, extermination and attacks on civilians, among others. Separate indictments were filed for his crimes in Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia. His trial began in February 2002, but he died of a heart attack in March 2006 before a verdict could be rendered.

Assessing Twenty Years of the ICTY

The United Nations established the Tribunal in 1993 to break the institutional impunity of crimes committed against humanity in the midst of the Yugoslav Wars. While the Tribunal declares that in its twenty years it has "shown that an individual's senior position can no longer protect them from prosecution," the political consequences of each trial have created both positive and negative ripple effects in the region.

The Tribunal's self-proclaimed accomplishments revolve [PDF] around the theme of giving [PDF] victims a voice. For example, many indictments were issued in the midst of the Yugoslavian conflict against active leaders of the military, and they were predicated upon the accounts of recent concentration camp escapees. Likewise, the Tribunal issued indictments against commanders of military groups for permitting sexual violence against women, and the trials included evidence from recent survivors. The court's concurrent existence with the conflict gave escapees and refugees a unique opportunity to immediately report crimes to the international community, instead of waiting for peace. This real-time opportunity stood in stark contrast to the post-World War II Nuremberg trials, in which some indictments occurred several years after the alleged crimes.

Despite its proactiveness in seeking justice during the conflict, the Tribunal has often been criticized for being politically biased. In 2008, Marko Attila Hoare of Kings College published a report showing that 68% of the indictments were brought against Serbians, while only 32% were issued against members of all other non-Serbian ethnicities collectively. In 2012, Serbian leader Vojislav Seselj reignited this theme when he claimed that the court was biased and had no jurisdiction over him. Danish judge Frederik Harhoff was removed from the Tribunal in 2013 after writing a letter in support of Seselj's allegations.

The Tribunal will resolve its initial trials by 2014 and appeals by 2015. After that, all residual proceedings will be transferred to a different court issued by the UN Security Council.


08/29/2013: Danish judge removed from war crimes tribunal for bias.

05/25/2013: ICTY marked 20th anniversary.

12/17/2012: UN extended terms of ICTY judges.

11/26/2012: Serbia asked UN tribunal to hand over evidence against freed Croatian generals.

11/11/2012: ICTY denied former Serb parliament speaker's request for early release.

10/06/2012: ICTY opened final war crimes trial.

11/14/2011: Staff shortages plagued UN war crimes tribunals.

09/14/2011: UN extended terms for international tribunal prosecutors until December 2014.

07/20/2011: Serbia captured final ICTY fugitive Goran Hadzic.

10/08/2010: UN war crimes tribunals requested additional resources from General Assembly.

09/28/2010: ICTY began project to strengthen Balkan region's courts.

08/27/2008: ICTY indicted former spokesperson for disclosing confidential Milosevic decisions.

08/03/2008: Serbian president vowed to work with ICTY to find remaining fugitives.

07/29/2008: Bosnia war crimes court handed down first Srebrenica sentences.

07/10/2008: Russia alleged bias in ICTY.

05/20/2008: ICTY indicted journalist for exposing witness in ex-Kosovo PM war crimes trial.

05/15/2006: ICTY prison auditors recommended modest reforms after Milosevic death in custody.

11/01/2005: ICTY transferred first case to Croatia.

03/15/2005: UN Yugoslavia war crimes court issued final indictment.

05/25/1993: ICTY created [pdf] under UN Resolution 827.


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