Bringing war criminals to justice and justice to victims: FNF visits the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

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The support of human rights belongs to the priorities of the work of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Germany as well as abroad. In this context the foundation is strengthening its cooperation with institutions and organizations that defend human rights and denounce injustice. Against this background representatives of the FNF’s regional office European Institutions and North America as well as of the department International Politics visited the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

“Bringing war criminals to justice and justice to victims” is one of the objectives of the ICTY. How successful has the ICTY been in achieving this objective since its establishment in 1993? This was one of the questions raised by the FNF representatives in an intensive discussion with Peter Mc Closkey, Senior Trial Attorney, who gave a vivid presentation and shared his personal experiences of the beginnings of the ICTY’s work in the Former Yugoslavia. One of the challenges at the beginning was trying to prosecute a crime without being able to enter a crime scene. This was made possible only through the help of NATO and “crazy journalists” who had discovered mass graves on their own, Mc Closkey recalls. Another challenge to the prosecutors’ work during the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo was the lack of records and the difficulty of getting a case together. In the meantime the Court has managed to gather millions of pages of documents and thousands of witness statements and dossiers. The Tribunal has managed to issue indictments against 161 persons for crimes committed against tens of thousands of victims in the former Yugoslavia while the vast documentation and dossiers are transferred to local courts enabling the latter to continue prosecuting perpetrators in the future.

Persons publicly indicted for war crimes by the ICTY between 2000 and 2011
Persons publicly indicted for war crimes by the ICTY between 2000 and 2011

Nevertheless, the ICTY is also facing criticism today, especially regarding the so-called “Gotovina-case”. In April 2011 Croatian ex-generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač were convicted by the ICTY’s trial chamber and found guilty of significantly contributing to a Joint Criminal Enterprise, whose common purpose was to permanently remove the Serb civilian population from the Krajina region, by ordering unlawful artillery attacks on four towns. However, the Tribunal’s appeals chamber found the evidence insufficient to support a finding that the artillery attacks were unlawful and overturned the convictions and ordered their immediate release causing a wave of angry reactions.

Having recognized this criticism, there is no doubt of the value and importance of the ICTY’s contribution to revealing the circumstances of some of the most serious crimes against humanity committed in the Former Yugoslavia. Thanks to the ICTY, the question is no longer whether leaders should be held accountable, but rather when they will be called to account.

FNF team at ICTY
FNF team at ICTY

This was the second visit of the FNF to an International tribunal. Last year FNF also visited the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague in the context of its Human Rights programme. For more information on the human rights’ work of the FNF please contact: alba.cako[at]fnst.org

Alba Ҫako