News 21 Dec 17

Hague Tribunal Celebrates Achievements at Closing Ceremony

At its closing event, UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres said the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia had shown the international community’s commitment to holding war criminals accountable.

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Judge Carmel Agius, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and UN Secretary-General Gutteres. Photo: ICTY/screenshot.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres told the ICTY’s closing ceremony in The Hague on Thursday that the Tribunal “pushed international expectations of accountability” for the perpetrators of war crimes.

“The creation of this Tribunal demonstrated a new-found and serious commitment by the international community that those responsible for perpetrating the most serious crimes... should be held accountable,” Gutteres said.

He said that since its foundation in 1993 by the UN Security Council, the ICTY has convicted 90 people.

“Beyond those numbers, the Tribunal gave voice to victims,” he added, and commended war survivors who came forward to testify in court, bravely reliving their tragedies.

Gutteres also said that the Srebrenica genocide will “continue to haunt global consciousness” and that the tragedies in the former Yugoslavia should never be forgotten.

The ceremony started with a minute of silence in honour of the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. At the end, Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic read excerpts from the testimonies of those who survived to give evidence.

Antonio Gutteres delivers the ceremony's keynote address. Photo: ICTY/screenshot.

ICTY president Carmel Agius told the ceremony that the Tribunal’s achievements over the past 24 years “demonstrated that impunity can be overcome”.

“The ICTY ushered in a new era, a new paradigm in international criminal justice,” Agius said.

As well as defining the Srebrenica massacres as genocide and establishing other judicial facts about what happened during the 1990s wars, the ICTY left a rich archive of millions of pages of documents and contributed to the development of international criminal law.

The ICTY’s unfinished cases have been taken over by another Hague-based institution, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, MICT.

It will complete the appeals proceedings in the cases against Bosnian Serb political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic and Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj, plus the retrial of Serbian State Security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, as well as outstanding contempt-of-court cases.

MICT president Theodore Meron said that the ICTY leaves a “proud legacy”, but that important work still remains because justice “requires a sustained commitment”.

“The Tribunal was a true pioneer, blazing the trail for all other accountability efforts,” Meron said.

The chief prosecutor of the ICTY, Serge Brammertz, said that atrocities were committed in the former Yugoslavia because “leaders fought for power using fear, lies and hate”.

“Today leaders... must distance themselves from crimes, reject convicted war criminals and stop hiding behind false claims of collective guilt. I have said it many times before, but let me repeat - the Tribunal judges the guilt of individuals, not peoples,” Brammertz added.

Despite the convictions it achieved, the ICTY has also been dogged by controversies - the most recent being the courtoom suicide of Bosnian Croat general Slobodan Praljak last month.

Its legacy is also disputed in the former Yugoslavia, where many Bosniaks have expressed satisfaction about the convictions but many Serbs see it as a biased court.

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