The Globalization of Justice

When the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established by the UN Security Council on May 25, 1993, many regarded it as a meaningless gesture. Twenty years later, the tribunal's contribution to ending impunity for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide has proved to be enormous.

PARIS – When the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established by the United Nations Security Council 20 years ago, on May 25, 1993, many regarded it as a meaningless gesture. At the time, the war in Bosnia was already more than a year old; the city of Sarajevo was under siege; tens of thousands of civilian noncombatants had already died; and hundreds of thousands had been forcibly displaced.

The Bosnian Serbs – and their supporters in Serbia – seemed to be winning the war, while the UN made no provision for taking into custody those charged with ordering or carrying out atrocities. Indeed, some saw the creation of the ICTY as a poor substitute for the military intervention that was needed to halt the slaughter.

For a long time, that cynical response seemed to be justified. The ICTY was slow in getting off the ground. It took the UN 14 months to appoint a chief prosecutor. Another year passed before his office issued indictments against high-ranking figures responsible for major crimes. By then, the massacre of about 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica, the largest mass killing in Europe since World War II, had already taken place.

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