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    The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

    By Sammy Witt, UN Youth Rep

    The International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991 (or ICTY) held their twenty-fourth and last ever annual review at the General Assembly of the UN last week, and I had the opportunity to attend.

    This was an extremely exciting opportunity, considering its importance. The Tribunal was the first court to undertake the prosecution and adjudication of the gravest international crimes since the post-World War II Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. The Tribunal, based in The Hague, one of the few big UN cities, has left none of the 161 persons they identified at large, making it one of the most successful tribunals of its kind.

    But what exactly is this War Tribunal about? The unraveling of the Eastern Bloc, and particularly former Yugoslavia, came with a series of wars, most notably the war in Croatia between 1991 and 1995 and the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. Slovenia had a smaller conflict that lasted 10 days and was settled peacefully. The war in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 was the last armed conflict in the Balkans.

    Even though the reasons such a big, complex and diverse state would fall apart are complicated, you could say that most of the issues are related to the imbalance of powers within Yugoslavia. Serbia, the richest out of the 8 countries and autonomous zones that made up Yugoslavia, also held a lot more political power than the others, having four times as many votes in the presidential elections as the other countries and autonomous zones did. Only in the aftermath of the fall of the Eastern Bloc did the ethnic tensions become such a significant problem. The pursuit of a “greater Serbia,” an effort that involved ethnic cleansing, is not only responsible for at least 130,000 deaths but also for the raping of 20,000 to 50,000, mostly Muslim women. Many of these happened in the so-called “rape camps” run by the Serbian military. Rape was used as a weapon of war and an instrument of systematic ethnic cleansing, to terrorize the civilian population, extort money from families, and force people to flee their homes.

    All of these atrocities had to be redressed.The tribunal reached a sentence in 131 cases.3 Unfortunately, what was perhaps the most important trial held by the Tribunal was never concluded: Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic died in his cell in March 2006. He had been charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. Several other indicted individuals also died before a verdict could be reached.

    It is very difficult to talk about about all of these abominations committed in the former Yugoslavia without turning people into statistics. It is even more difficult though, to retell the survivors' personal narratives, without having it break your heart. Even so, I believe this to be of vital importance. Let’s not forget about these and other atrocious crimes committed, and why the UN is of importance to all of us.


    Suggested further reading:

    Robert Fisk; Bosnia War Crimes: 'The rapes went on day and night': Robert Fisk, in Mostar, gathers detailed evidence of the systematic sexual assaults on Muslim women by Serbian 'White Eagle' gunmen;Monday 8 February 1993; the Independent; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bosnia-war-crimes-the-rapes-went-on-day-and-night-robert-fisk-in-mostar-gathers-detailed-evidence-of-1471656.html

    Tanja Matic; Balkan Blood Ties: Children of The Hague's Accused Deny the 'War Crimes' of Their Fathers; February 17, 2015; Vice Magazine; https://news.vice.com/article/balkan-blood-ties-children-of-the-hagues-accused-deny-the-war-crimes-of-their-fathers

    1Unknown Author; Wikipedia entry: Yugoslav Wars; published after 2015; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugoslav_Wars#cite_note-HLC-2

    2 Sue Turton; Bosnian War rape survivors speak of their suffering 25 years on; 21 July 2017; The Independent; http://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/bosnia-war-rape-survivors-speak-serbian-soldiers-balkans-women-justice-suffering-a7846546.html

    3 United Nations, ICTY; ICTY Facts & Figures; September 2016; http://www.icty.org/sites/icty.org/files/images/content/Infographic_facts_figures_en.pdf

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