Global Policy Forum

ICTY Legacy

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
September 4, 2007

Despite the many criticisms that have been leveled at it, the tribunal for former Yugoslavia has put into practice what had previously been a purely theoretical discussion about international criminal justice and paved the way for other international processes, say those interviewed for a special report by IWPR.

In researching the in-depth report, IWPR spoke to many leading members of the international justice community to canvass their views on the record of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY - and to discover what legacy they believe the court will leave behind when it closes its doors.

Amongst those interviewed were Justice Richard Goldstone, formerly a member of South Africa's Constitutional Court and a chief prosecutor at the ICTY; political adviser to Carla Del Ponte Anton Nikiforov; director of the International Justice Project at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch Richard Dicker, and president of the Association of Defence Counsel Michael Karnavas.

The tribunal was established by the UN Security Council in 1993 to try crimes committed during the Balkans wars following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Its aim was to prosecute those suspected of bearing the greatest responsible for atrocities committed and, in doing so, bring justice to victims; deter further crimes; and help foster peace and reconciliation in the region. In the 14 years since its inception, the court has seen high-level politicians and former soldiers in the dock accused of the worst wartime atrocities seen in Europe since World War II.

Interviews conducted revealed a wide range of opinions concerning successes and failures of the court. Nikiforov said the ICTY's record was a "remarkable achievement", as it has managed to process 135 of 161 people indicted. While Dicker noted that the tribunal had succeeded in getting custody of "an overwhelming number" of indictees.

Most of the experts interviewed agreed that the ICTY had made positive contributions to international criminal law and laid groundwork for other international courts - most significantly, the ICC. John Washburn, the American convenor for the independent Coalition for the International Criminal Court, pointed out that thanks to work done by the ICTY and its sister court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, crimes such as mass rape are specifically defined in the ICC's statue.

However, the court came under fire for a lack of uniformity in procedures, between trial chambers and in legal definitions of crimes. Another criticism cited by interviewees was its failure to secure a conviction against former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic who died of natural causes four years into an overly complex trial. Goldstone said the Milosevic trial had "undoubtedly tarnished the legacy of the ICTY". The report also highlighted difficulties encountered by the ICTY - such as having no police force of its own.

"The biggest problem that faced both ad hoc tribunals [Rwanda and ICTY], and is already a problem for the ICC, is enforcement," said Goldstone. "There won't be, in any of our lifetimes, an international police force [capable of enforcing international arrest warrants]." Several interviewees expressed concern over the tribunal completion strategy, by which the court must close its doors by 2010.

Pressure on the ICTY to complete all its cases on time has led to some judges introducing new measures - such as time constraints on both prosecution and defence - to try and speed up trials. "The system has changed so radically over the years, and the rights are being eroded slowly to the point where it's almost an aspiration that you could get fair trial, rather than a reality," said Karnavas. "We're not going to complete the task within time. It's impossible. It cannot be done."

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia


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