by Colina Cole, United States of America

The Hague Symposium cohort visited the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ITCY), which was established to prosecute high ranking officials for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia that occurred from 1991 an onwards. After indicting 161 persons, the ICTY’s final criminal proceedings for Ratko Mladic, Goran Hadzic and Radovan Karadzic are tentatively scheduled to conclude by December 2014. The Hague Symposium participants raised questions regarding the legitimacy of the international criminal courts and their ability to impose their legal statute over sovereign nations. More importantly, what has the international community learned from this transitional justice mechanism? Participants grappled with the need for international interventions on behalf of citizens as it relates to human right abuses by governments; yet the group was cautiously optimistic about the ICTY’s effectiveness as it relates to post-conflict transitions.

The Balkans remains ethnically and religiously divided. The national wounds from past grievances are present, and the outbreak of another war remains a likely possibility. The continuous tension between peace and justice is in the forefronts of everyone’s mind. Conflict resolution becomes conflict management. Facing the harsh reality that coexistence is a long tenuous process that is sometimes only achieved after massive killings is a difficult adjustment. Where do we go from here? “People don’t fight over facts; they fight over what they believe,” stated William Stuebner as he began today’s discussion regarding The Former Yugoslavia. Stuebner’s presentation was followed by Ambassador Klein who engaged us in a provocative discussion about the Balkans war. The purpose of the ICTY was to establish the facts and remove all means of denial from the perpetrators of genocide from this war. No longer will people be able to hide behind “government orders” as an excuse for atrocities and grave violations of human rights abuses. The students from The Hague Symposium are determined — it is back to the drawing board. We recognize that there is no perfect solution, but the desire to help human begins find a more peaceful way to live together remains paramount.

Should tribunal courts like the ICTY continue to be erected? And do these tribunals truly serve justice? Debates over the United Nations security statue, international humanitarian law, primacy law, and impunity laws quickly ensured. There are obvious deficiencies within international institutions, but not obvious solutions about how to bridge the divide. Was the ICTY helpful with providing justice for the victims? And, in what areas did it fail?

The learning curve is steep, and the complexities of this conflict require more engaging discussions like the ones we are having today while gaining a deeper understanding of justice, retribution, reparations, reconciliation, communal healing and national building.