Looking back: How the ICTY grappled with genocidal intent

07 July 2015 by Heikelina Verrijn Stuart and IJT

For IJT’s special issue acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, we are publishing an edited version of a November 2005 article [IJT-29] by international law expert Heikelina Verrijn Stuart. It illustrates how the ICTY was shaping the law of genocide a decade ago. 

Photo exhibit used in ICTY Srebrenica cases of a single shoe left at Branjevo Military Farm (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)
Image caption: 
Photo exhibit used in ICTY Srebrenica cases of a single shoe left at Branjevo Military Farm (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)

“By planned and well-thought-out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica and Zepa.” Such were the instructions of President Radovan Karadzic in March 1995. The ‘purifying’ intention of Directive 7 is in no doubt. Yet it leaves open the issue of the intention to commit genocide. Legal experts at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have been scrutinizing the gap between genocide and ethnic cleansing.

In 1995, the siege of Srebrenica had already lasted two-and-a-half years. The population was starving and lacked everything for basic survival [IJT-29]. As early as 1990, Karadzic, as president of the Serb democratic party SDS, said in an interview with the Belgrade daily Nin: “The Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina… will never allow a state border to separate them from Serbia.” Srebrenica was one of the areas in eastern Bosnia with a predominantly Muslim population, and this stood directly in the way of an undivided Serbia for Serbs.

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