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Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic in the dock at the ICTY in June 2011 (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)
28 June 2016 by Iva Vukusic The Hague

The trial of Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) recently heard what is likely its last witness, Russian colonel Andrei Demurenko, invited by the defense to testify in relation to one mortar attack that killed around 40 and wounded over 70 people in a crowded Sarajevo market in August 1995. His testimony went on for hours, discussing projectiles, trajectories, meters and degrees, with the witness frequently evading giving clear, short answers.

His testimony is based on an investigation he claims he conducted while working for the UN protection force UNPROFOR in Sarajevo. That investigation showed, according to the witness, that the Bosnian Serb army could not have been responsible for the massacre. The testimony ended abruptly when Demurenko checked out of his hotel and never showed up to answer the final questions. The Russian colonel may have left suddenly because he did not like the questions of the prosecution, or because the presiding judge rejected his request to shake hands with Mladic in court. The unusual ending made me reflect on outreach and how it can be successful when what goes on in the courtroom is dull, or simply bizarre.

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Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo in the ICC courtroom during the delivery of his sentence on 21 June 2016 (Photo: Flickr/ICC-CPI)
23 June 2016 by Stephanie van den Berg, The Hague (The Netherlands)

The 18-year sentence the International Criminal Court handed down on Tuesday against former Congolese vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba [IJT-191, blog] for murders, rapes and pillaging committed by his troops while they were fighting in neighbouring Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003 has received a mixed reception. Some experts like Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association told Deutsche Welle he would have “preferred a significantly longer sentence” given the severity of the crimes Bemba was convicted of. Human rights groups focused on the fact that this was the longest sentence handed down by the ICC so far and Bemba's defence pointed it out that it was significantly higher than other convictions under command responsibility by international tribunals.

Just how much is eighteen years compared to other similar cases in different courts? Justice Tribune spoke to criminologist Barbora Hola of the Amsterdam Vrije Universiteit faculty of law who studies sentencing of international crimes and has done empirical, quantitative studies of sentences at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and it's sister court for Rwanda, the ICTR.

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Demonstration of widows of victims of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré in the Chadian capital N'Djamena in 2005 (Photo: Human Rights Watch)
15 June 2016 by Reed Brody (Op-ed contributor)

A special court in Senegal convicted Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, for atrocity crimes on May 30, and sentenced him to life in prison[IJT-192]. It was the first time  that the courts of one country had prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first time in a human rights trial that a former ruler was found to have personally committed rape.

Most important for the future, however, the verdict was the result of a 25-year campaign by Habré’s victims and their supporters. They improbably succeeded in creating the political conditions to bring Habré to justice in Africa, with the support of the African Union.

 

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Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza talks to the press following a meeting with a UN Security Council delegation that came to reiterate the need for an inclusive dialogue to end months of political turmoil. (Photo: Flickr/ MONUSCO)
07 June 2016 by Benjamin Duerr, The Hague (The Netherlands)

At the end of April, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary examination in Burundi. As the situation has been deteriorating for the past year with experts fearing the outbreak of a full-fledged civil war, Burundi could become a real-life test for the ICC's ability to deter atrocities. Some argue there is evidence the move of the prosecutor has already had an impact on the conflict.

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Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré listening to judges handing down a life sentence against him (photo: Stephanie van den Berg)
31 May 2016 by Thierry Cruvellier

If there was any surprise in the judgment of former president of Chad Hissène Habré, it was that there wasn’t a single surprise. On May 30, 2016, Habré was found guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture for which he received a life sentence. Apart from a minor charge relating to the transfer of prisoners of war, every accusation against him was upheld by the trial chamber of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), an inter-African court created to try him, based in Dakar, Senegal [IJT-184]. 

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Wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on the day of his conviction by the ICTY (Photo; Flickr/ICTY)
26 May 2016 by Jesse Wieten in The Hague (The Netherlands)

The trial of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is one of the most important proceedings before the ICTY, he was the court's most wanted fugitive for over a decade and highest-ranking Bosnian Serb ever on trial for war crimes and genocide. Even though Karadzic liked to present himself as a lone defendant, acting against the ICTY prosecution machinery, he was closely advised and guided by attorney Peter Robinson. The US counsel reflects on the case that will live on in the legacy of tribunal because of Karadzic's central role in the 1992-95 Bosnian war but also for the marathon effort he made pleading his case as his own lawyer. 

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An ICTY exhibit, a satelite image of the Branjevo military farm where around 1,000 Bosnian Muslim men were executed in 1995 as part of the Srebrenica massacre (Photo: Flickr/ICTY)
25 May 2016 by Vladimir Petrovic

Ever since Justice Robert Jackson memorably promised to ‘establish incredible events by credible evidence’ in Nuremberg, expectations from international tribunals regarding establishment of historical record remain high. This is particularly the case with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The first international criminal court since the Nuremberg, the ICTY even explicated these implicit prospects, including establishment of facts among its crucial achievements listed on its website: "The tribunal has established beyond a reasonable doubt crucial facts related to crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia. In doing so, the tribunal’s judges have carefully reviewed testimonies of eyewitnesses, survivors and perpetrators, forensic data and often previously unseen documentary and video evidence. The tribunal’s judgements have contributed to creating a historical record, combating denial and preventing attempts at revisionism and provided the basis for future transitional justice initiatives in the region."

 

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Bosnian victims protesting outside the ICTY during the Karadzic judgement. The banner reads: 'Truth sometimes sleeps but never dies' (Photo: Joost van Egmond)
24 May 2016 by Joost van Egmond

“Finally, good news from The Hague!” famously cried the then Serbian prime minister Ivica Dacic at the acquittal on appeal of former Yugoslav army commander Momcilo Perisic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. For him, and for the government he represented, this counted as vindication of Belgrade’s actions during the war. The fact that Serbia as a state had already been held partly responsible by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the very crimes this individual was tried for, was swept under the carpet [IJT-63].

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Poster supporting Croatian general Ante Gotovina
23 May 2016 by Iva Vukusic in The Hague (The Netherlands)

These days Croatia is going through a surge of nationalism and historical revisionism unseen since the worst days of the war of the 1990s. The polarization in society is between those who consider the regime, known as Independent State of Croatia, a source of pride, and those who perceive it as a source of shame. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) deals with another past, less distant, but equally painful. The population is no more open to honestly discuss it than it is the crimes of the 1940s.

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Kigali Genocide Memorial (Photo: Janet Anderson)
10 May 2016 by Janet H. Anderson Kigali (Rwanda)

Two Rwandans will go on trial today in Paris for genocide and crimes against humanity. The trial of Octavien Ngenzi and Tite Barahirwa - both former mayors from the south east of the country – is France’s second in a series of up to a potential twenty suspects, in connection with the 1994 genocide. Former spy chief Pascal Simbikangwa was convicted in March 2014 to 25 years in jail in the first ever judgment by a French court relating to the Rwandan genocide. But in October last year the French case against a notorious side-arm-carrying priest Wenceslas Munyeshyaka was dismissed to widespread criticism.

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