Prosecutor Serge Brammertz of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) spoke today at the briefing entitled “The International Tribunal and Beyond: Pursuing Justice for Atrocities in the Western Balkans” organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC). The aim of the briefing was to assess the Tribunal’s achievements and limitations and what still needs to be done by the countries of the region to seek justice in outstanding cases, bring greater closure to victims and foster greater reconciliation among peoples. The other panelists were Nemanja Stjepanović, Member of the Executive Board of the Humanitarian Law Center in Belgrade and Diane Orentlicher, Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, American University. The briefing was opened by U.S. Representative Randy Hultgren, co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and member of the Helsinki Commission, and moderated by Robert Hand, Policy Advisor of the Helsinki Commission. U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, member of the TLHRC, also attended the briefing and made remarks.
Prosecutor Brammertz stated that “in large measure, the ICTY has achieved what it set out to do”, and added: “In accordance with universally-recognized principles of law, we independently and impartially investigated the crimes, prosecuted senior leaders from all parties to the conflict and held them individually responsible for their crimes against the victims and indeed all of humanity”.
Speaking about the crucial role of the international community - the United States and the European Union in particular - in setting up and supporting the work of the Tribunal through conditionality policy, Prosecutor Brammertz said: “The lesson is clear: if there is a clear political agenda in support of justice, and if the international community speaks with one voice, those most responsible for atrocity crimes can be held accountable”.
Speaking about the importance of the ICTY’s legacy for future justice efforts, Prosecutor Brammertz said that the ICTY will continue to be a “symbol of justice to other victims and survivors”. The Prosecutor added that the ICTY greatly developed the law and practices needed to bring war criminals to justice, emphasizing his Office’s work in documenting the lessons learned from prosecuting rape, sexual enslavement, torture and other crimes of sexual violence in more than 50 cases.
Turning to his Office’s support to national judiciaries in the region of the former Yugoslavia, Prosecutor Brammertz noted, “If international tribunals focus on those most responsible for the crimes, there will need to be national courts to bring other perpetrators to justice in order to avoid significant impunity gaps”, and added that, “in the future, collaboration and intense cooperation between the international and national should be the rule, not the exception”.
Finally, Prosecutor Brammertz said that the completion of the Tribunal’s mandate is not the end of war crimes justice, but the beginning of the next chapter, as further accountability for the crimes now depends fully on national judiciaries in the former Yugoslavia. He stressed that national judiciaries will need more support as “accountability for atrocity crimes in the national courts of the former Yugoslavia faces many challenges, with negative trends often overshadowing the positive”. Noting that reconciliation has not yet been achieved and remains a significant challenge, the Prosecutor concluded that the ICTY’s legacy would not be measured by its own work but by “whether the countries of the former Yugoslavia build the rule of law, demonstrate they can secure meaningful justice for the victims, and show the courage to accept the facts and pursue meaningful reconciliation”.