Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hadzic in the dock

Goran Hadzic 1992 (c) Christian Marechal
Many of you will have seen that Serbia extradited Goran Hadzic to The Hague last week. As the last of the ethnic Serbs wanted for war crimes by the U.N., what does his trial represent in terms of justice for those in the former Yugoslavia?

Reuters reported:
"Hadzic is charged with instigating the torture and murder of hundreds of Croat and non-Serb civilians, including 264 hospital patients in Vukovar in 1991, as well as mass detentions, forced labour and driving thousands from their homes.”
In the last couple of days, the BBC inform us that Hadzic has not entered a plea. Both the Reuters and BBC stories remark on Serbia’s quest for candidate status for membership of the European Union (EU) and its need to comply with the conditions for approval. Website crimesofwar.org commented thus on Radovan Karadzic’s extradition almost 3 years ago:
“Nevertheless opinion polls have shown consistently over the last few years, that while most Serbs do not regard Mr Karadzic or General Mladic as guilty, or at least any more guilty than any leading wartime figure amongst Croats, Bosniaks and Kosovo Albanians, they also do not have a passionate objection to their transfer to The Hague. There is a clear understanding that Serbia’s European future and hence their own, is directly related to the fates of these men. Serbs only have to look over the border, or go on holiday in Croatia, to see and understand that once it had in 2005 delivered its last indictee, General Ante Gotovina, a huge hurdle on the road to EU integration was removed. As a consequence Croatia is years ahead of Serbia now on the road to Brussels and, in part as a consequence of that, its people are also several times more prosperous than those of Serbia.”
This might explain why few Serbs are protesting at Hadzic’s departure, unlike the removal of Karadzic. However, it does not represent a victory for justice or ICTY. Rather than any sense of legal justice being seen to be done in its own right, the Serb people appear focused on ideas of economic integration and the benefits that might bring. Consequently, ICTY has failed to establish its independent juridical credentials.

Created hurriedly following the U.N.’s poor response to the atrocities being committed in the former Yugoslavia, the U.N. Security Council established ICTY in May 1993. Resolution 827 sets out its mandate, and refers to ‘the restoration and maintenance of peace’. From its annual report in 1994:
“The role of the Tribunal cannot be overemphasized. Far from being a vehicle for revenge, it is a tool for promoting reconciliation and restoring true peace."
In the absence of any Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY has to demonstrate justice for its victims to the highest level for any idea of reconciliation to work.

Memorial at the Vukovar hospital (c) Modzzak

In their report of 2010, the International Center for Transnational Justice examined local perceptions of ICTY in Bosnia. Although their interviewees wished to make it clear that they did not see the creation of ICTY as ill-advised, they considered that it had failed to deliver justice as they had originally perceived. Among the disappointments noted in this report were sentencing patterns (some war criminals were sentenced to 2 years imprisonment), guilty pleas (where the accused who pleaded guilty got a reduced sentence), and the length and complexity of proceedings.

In their study of witness testimony during the Krstic trial at ICTY, Dembour and Haslam (2004) found that victim-witnesses were effectively silenced in the pursuit of pertinent legal “facts”. Rather than being able to describe the acts that for them were essential to reconciliation, they were subject to those who have the power to question them.

In March 2005, the War Crimes Chamber (WCC) was established within the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Garbett, 2010). The WCC is both a national and international court that prosecutes persons responsible for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. For the victims, this hybrid court represents a local, transparent and more accessible means of achieving justice. Unlike ICTY, where there have been concerns regarding the way it goes about prosecuting charges of sexual violence, the WCC has prosecuted a high number of these cases.

In terms of Vukovar, it is worth noting the work of Hagan and Ivkovic (2006). From a sample of 282 people surveyed, they found that 52.1% of Croats in Vukovar believe that persons accused of war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia should be tried in local courts where the crime was committed. Only 25.9% of 143 ethnic Serbs living in Vukovar believe the same. Support for ICTY dispensed justice was 28% amongst Croats and 47.6% amongst Serbs. Therefore, the majority of Croats would prefer to see justice dished out locally, rather than in The Hague. Along with the other evidence, this has implications for justice in the Hadzic trial

So whilst the U.N. celebrates the forthcoming prosecution of its last indictee, it has struggled to effect international justice for its victims at ICTY.  It may be the flagship PR model for an international justice system as evinced by the west, but on the local grounds where these tragedies occur, it is seen as imperialist and a disappointment. If the international community want justice, then local concerns have to be addressed. 


Dembour, M-B and Haslam, E. (2004), Silencing Hearings? Victim-Witnesses at War Crimes Trials, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 15 No. 1, 151–177

Garbett, C. (2010), Localising Criminal Justice: An Overview of National Prosecutions at the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 10:3, 558-568

Hagan, J. and Ivkovic, S.K. (2006), War Crimes, Democracy, and the Rule of Law in Belgrade, the Former Yugoslavia and Beyond, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 605Democracy, Crime and Justice (May, 2006), 130-151
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