War Crimes Law Comes of Age: Essays

By Theodor Meron | Go to book overview

XII
The Normative Impact on International Law of the International Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia

In a discussion of ethnic cleansing, Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross [hereinafter: ICRC], lamented that the practices that were believed to belong to the museum of horrors of the Second World War have become routine in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. In a series of public statements, the ICRC -- usually so discreet -- has spoken out on the failure to respect the rights of the civilian population, which has been subjected to systematic abuses including summary execution, torture, rape, mass internment, deportation and displacement in the process of which thousands may have died, intimidation, taking of hostages, ill-treatment and confiscation of private property. The most basic principles of international humanitarian law -- and of course of human rights -- have been and are being violated.

Whether or not one accepts the comparison to World War II's atrocities, those being committed in the former Yugoslavia every day before our very eyes exceed even those abuses perpetrated in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's occupation forces. Our sense of justice cannot accept the impunity enjoyed by the offenders. Because we were unable, or unwilling to prevent the atrocities as they were unfolding, the prosecution of the perpetrators must be undertaken, at the very least. Without action, humanitarian law would be in danger of being swept aside entirely, and losing whatever credibility it still has.

Whatever the practical achievements of the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia may prove to be, the United Nations Security Council has established the first truly international criminal tribunal1 for the prosecution of persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law. Its creation portends at least some deterrence to future violations and gives a new lease on life to that part of international criminal law which applies to violations of humanitarian law. These are

____________________
1
The post- World War IINuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals are regarded by some commentators as victors' courts.

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