Twenty years ago, on 25 May 1993, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 827. With this resolution the international community envisaged to put to trial those individuals that were alleged to be responsible for grave crimes against humanity, infractions of international humanitarian law and the law of war which have been committed during the Yugoslav wars (1991-1999). The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first ad hoc criminal tribunal that came into existence since the erection of the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Tokyo Tribunal after World War II.

The Tribunal has advanced the development of international justice from the moment of its creation. Its work and jurisprudence have been very important for the development of international criminal justice, international humanitarian law and the law of war and international criminal procedure. As the first tribunal that was created under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in order to maintain peace and security, the ICTY has made several permanent contributions. The Tribunal has been an example for other UN tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the permanent International Criminal Court.

The Tribunal has brought justice to the many victims of the Balkan conflicts by indicting 161 persons for serious violations on international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. The ICTY has concluded proceedings for 136 accused and there are ongoing proceedings for 25 accused.

Several of the cases tried before the ICTY were landmark cases which have changed international law. For example, this Tribunal is the first international war crimes tribunal that has dealt with charges of sexual violence, sexual slavery and sexual torture of men, women and children. With these cases the Court has shown the world that perpetrators who have committed these inhumane and cruel acts during wartime, will not remain unpunished. Besides dealing with sexual violence, sexual torture and sexual slavery, the Tribunal has established a non-derogable general prohibition of torture in international law. The ICTY has also specified important elements of the crime of genocide and it has determined that enslavement and persecution could be considered as crimes against humanity.

Another achievement is that the ICTY put to an end the impunity of war crimes. With the cases brought before the court, the ICTY has strived to ensure the accountability of heads of state, ministers, army chiefs and other leaders from parties to conflicts at all times. For criminal responsibility, a formal superior-subordinate relationship is no necessary requirement.

The many victims of the Yugoslav wars have been given a voice before and during the trials. Forensic data, documents, videos and testimonies of eyewitnesses, survivors and perpetrators have been carefully reviewed by the Tribunal.

The ICTY was established as a temporary tribunal in order to take over the investigation of war crimes when the domestic judicial systems in the former Yugoslavia did not function properly and effectively. In July the mandate of the ICTY will come to an end. On 1 July 2013 the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals will take over the essential functions of the Tribunal after the completion of its mandate.

The ICTY concentrates on the senior leaders that have been alleged of war crimes committed during the Yugoslav wars. The cases involving lower-level and intermediate alleged perpetrators have been transferred to the national courts in the former Yugoslavia. The transferral of cases from the ICTY to domestic judiciaries is referred to as the Tribunal's 'completion strategy'. Since 2003 the Tribunal cooperates with national authorities and local courts. By sharing its expertise, documentation and by transferring cases to local judiciaries, further justice can be brought to the victims and the rule of law strengthened.  Furthermore, it will help to ensure long time stability in the region.

The achievements of the Tribunal could not have been possible without the dedication of the judges, the staff members of the Tribunal, the witnesses and the support of organisations and governments that ardently have helped  the Court to fulfill its mission.

It is estimated that the last case will be completed in 2016.

Librarian's choice

A selection of relevant publications from the Peace Palace Library collection

Footnotes and references: For all the facts and data about the ICTY use has been made of several documents that can be found on the webpage of the ICTY. See the external links section below.

Relevant PPL-keywords for further research

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