Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Hague Redoubles Efforts

The Hague Tribunal has stepped up its pursuit of Bosnia's war criminals.
By IWPR

Just before Christmas Bosnian Serb Goran Jelisic was jailed for 40 years for crimes committed in the northern Bosnian town of Brcko.


From that point on, The Hague Tribunal for former Yugoslavia has been gathering momentum, and is currently enjoying its greatest burst of activity since it was formed in 1993.


With the United States offering a bounty of $5m for the arrest of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Bosnian henchmen, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, there's never been a clearer message given to all sides that war criminals will sooner or later be brought to justice.


"I think that The Hague has a crucial role to shed light on the truth, " says Murat Kurtic, a member of the Bosnian State Commission for the Disappeared." I think we could see the main culprits, Karadzic and Mladic, in front of the court soon."


This spring, SFOR arrested and extradited several war crimes suspects, including Momcilo Krajisnik - the highest ranking politician dispatched to the Tribunal so far. The latest addition, Dragan Nikolic, is thought to have been detained in Serbia in mid-April.


Since the death of Franjo Tudjman, Croatia has been more inclined to cooperate with the Tribunal, finally extraditing Mladen Naletic Tuta.The Hague's work has been further galvanised by its access to previously classified documents and the personal commitment of chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, who has even taken time to attend exhumations of mass graves.


At the same time, public opinion in Bosnia has shifted. Scepticism that justice would never prevail is giving way to optimism among those Bosnian Muslims who lost friends and families during the war.


"After all this time, I had lost all hope any that crimes would be punished," said Hidajeta Alic, a teacher from Tuzla. "The Tribunal seems to have become more and more efficient. Now there is hope."


Even Bosnian Serbs, for so long suspicious of the Tribunal, which they believed was conspiring against them, are changing their tune: "Let them arrest them all, whoever is guilty, " said Dragoljub Illic. ".We can't continue to live in the past and pay for their crimes."


Croats were shocked and angeredwhen Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic was jailed for 45 years - the Hague's stiffest sentence to date.


One month on, however, there's some recognition of the need for justice. "The sentence on Blaskic may have been too harsh, but after Tuta's extradition, no one can say that the Croats haven't cooperated with the Tribunal," says Marinko Pejic, a Croat from Mostar.


But the greatest complaint from all sides has been that things are still moving too slowly. "Time is running out, " said Mehmed Celikovic from Bratunac in eastern Bosnia.." Many elderly people who witnessed the crimes have died. Young people move out and events are being forgotten. It should have been done earlier."


Celikovic witnessed crimes committed against the Muslims in July of 1995 in the village of Pobudje, where Bosnian Serb forces ambushed and killed Srebrenica survivors attempting to escape.


Bosnia's guilty men will not be sleeping soundly this spring. This current bout of intensive Tribunal activity is at last bringing relief to the republic's inhabitants. The majority of ordinary people, regardless of their nationality, would like to see the criminals tried for their crimes. Only then will they be able to start getting on with their lives.


Nermina Dujmic - Kahrovic is a regular IWPR contributor.