War crime justice weighs on international law

Mackenzie Mathews

Nerma Jelacic, the head of communication at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), will be speaking at WKU on April 7 in Snell Hall.

Jelacic’s presentation will consist of several components, all centered on the wars that took place between 1992-1995 in the former Yugoslavia. As head of communication at the ICTY, it is her job to distribute information about the conflict discovered through trials and testimonies.

“They’re the ones that are marketing what the ICTY is doing,” sociology professor Jerry Daday said of the communication department’s work.

The ICTY has played a major role in making international law a progressing career path. There’s a universal concern for human rights, and that connection holds the potential for global leaders’ ability to prevent future heinous crimes against humanity.

“My hope is that they [students] recognize that genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are realities in the world today,” Daday said. “There’s a whole set of institutions that are trying to get to the truth, bring justice to victims, end impunity and promote peaceful reconciliation.”

The United Nations established the ICTY in 1993, as mainly Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina took part in dividing Yugoslavia. The former republics used ethnicity to mobilize citizens in order to pursue territory and power.

Throughout the conflict, nearly 100,000 people died, tens of thousands of women were raped, populations were displaced and the first European-based genocide, since the Holocaust, had occurred. The ICTY was created to bring justice to these war crimes and to not only heal the victims, but to tell their stories.

“If people don’t know, the trial won’t have the desired impact,” Jelacic said.

Using victims’ narratives to educate international audiences of wartime crimes, the tribunal hopes that it may prevent such atrocities for future generations. Victims could also use it as a source to assist in their post-war healing, for physical and psychological wounds.

The ICTY has prosecuted 161 accused violators of human rights and the customs of war since 1993. As the first tribunal since the Nuremburg trials after World War II, it has set a precedent for countries that have endured similar plights.

“It’s a pioneering institution of international justice,” Jelacic said. “The international community is not letting go of the idea now that they have seen what it can do.”

Shortly after the ICTY’s formation, the UN created a tribunal to handle the genocide in Rwanda, and soon the two will combine to handle appeals after all the accused have been prosecuted.

It is believed the effects of the ICTY continued beyond individual countries to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Many ICTY prosecutors transferred to the ICC, thus expanding the realm of international politics.

“It’s very much a growing field,” Jelacic said.

She found herself in the ICTY after working as a journalist in the United Kingdom, having moved there to avoid the war in Yugoslavia. Upon her return years later, she dedicated herself to publicizing the war crimes and seeking justice with the ICTY.