The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal

By May, Radmila | Contemporary Review, September 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal

May, Radmila, Contemporary Review

On the 7th May 1997, in a courtroom in The Hague, capital of the Netherlands, a short, stocky, sallow young man faced a panel of three judges in black robes with red facings to hear what their verdict would be.

His name was Dusan Tadic, and he was on trial before an international war crimes tribunal. He was a native of what had once been Yugoslavia in SouthEastern Europe, a former cafe owner and traffic policeman, and bit-player in the unfolding tragedy of that country which had begun seventeen years earlier in May 1980 when Josip Broz, known as Tito, the communist leader who ruled Yugoslavia for 35 years, died. Nineteen years after Tito's death, his successor, President Slobodan Milosevic, was indicted by the same international war crimes tribunal. He is the first serving Head of State to be indicted as a war criminal.

In that period of nineteen years, Yugoslavia collapsed into chaos, disintegration and ruin. Much of the time the world just watched the tragedy on its television screens and did little more than wring its bands. But from time to time action was taken. One such action was the NATO intervention in Kosovo. But that was not the only action.

An earlier action was the establishment by the United Nations of an ad hoc war crimes tribunal to try the perpetrators of crimes committed during the Yugoslav conflicts.

This article describes that tribunal. Part One outlines how it came into being, its organisation and jurisdiction. Part Two will examine how it functions, explain some of its difficulties and successes as well as refer to other developments, in particular the proposed Permanent International Criminal Court.

The Tribunal should be distinguished from the International Court of Justice, the history of which has been described in an earlier issue of Contemporary Review (see May 1999, pages 242-246). The International Court of Justice tries disputes between states and then only when the parties to the action accept the jurisdiction of the court; it has no jurisdiction over individuals. Its trials are not criminal trials and it cannot mete out punishment. That is not to say it has not had a role in the resolution of conflicts arising out of the former Yugoslavia. Bosnia is currently pursuing a claim against the present-day Yugoslavia (i.e. Serbia and Montenegro). And Yugoslavia sought to involve the Court in the Kosovo crisis by making a claim against all the NATO countries involved in that crisis: a dramatic move which resulted in the somewhat less than dramatic decision, at least on a preliminary matter, that the Court had no jurisdiction.

International law has long recognised that certain acts committed by individuals may render those individuals liable under international law. Jurisdiction over these acts is universal: that is, any state may try an individual who is accused of having committed those acts whether or not the individual is a national of that state and whether or not the acts were committed within the territory of that state. Piracy was the first of such crimes to be recognised: in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was such a menace that it was generally agreed to be contra iure gentium (i.e. against the laws of all nations) enabling pirates to be tried by any court anywhere. This jurisdiction of national courts still exists: it is the principle under which Israel exercised its right to try Eichmann in 1964 for crimes against the Jewish people in Europe in World War II. Individual states may, however, have to amend their own laws: thus, the United Kingdom passed the War Crimes Act 1990 to enable it to try World War II criminals for crimes committed outside the United Kingdom. One man has been convicted under the Act.

The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal (properly called the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in the Former Yugoslavia, but in this article referred to as the Tribunal)was not the first attempt by the international community to deal with war crimes by individuals.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?