WASHINGTON – At a briefing held today, Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission praised the progress of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and called on Serbia , Bosnia and other Balkan states to cooperate with the tribunal in order to bring to justice those guilty of war crimes. In the wake of a Commission briefing, which was held in cooperation with the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the commissioners noted the success of the tribunal and praised the recent establishment of the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber.
“Nothing can ever undo the carnage that was unleashed by the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but out of those dark days the global community established that justice is a global principle to which all nations must adhere,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “The ICTY has lain to rest the idea that national sovereignty is a shield behind which the most horrible crimes can be committed with impunity.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe , also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“The genocide and ethnic cleansing that occurred in Europe during the 1990s is something that we never expected to witness again after 1945. The existence of such atrocities is proof that the world must always be on guard and prepared to bring to justice those who would commit the most heinous acts. That principle has been reaffirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement which ended the 1992-1995 civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The war, which was characterized by the “ethnic cleansing” of civilian populations, was the most violent conflict in Europe since the Second World War. After the war’s conclusion, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established at The Hague to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
“It has been a long, hard road, but slowly there has been a reckoning for those who committed the most brutal atrocities in Europe since the Second World War. Governments are beginning to realize that their place in the international community is dependent on their adhering to a standard of international justice. I call on all governments in the region to immediately apprehend and extradite the remaining at-large war criminals to the ICTY,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD).
The 55 participating States in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) played a crucial role in helping to stabilize the situation in Bosnia by assisting in peacekeeping efforts and election monitoring subsequent to the signing of the Dayton Agreement. The OSCE was established pursuant to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act which enshrined for the first time in international affairs the idea that issues of security were directly related to the acceptance of human rights. The outcome of the Bosnia conflict, specifically the establishment of the war crimes tribunal, has been seen by some experts as a reaffirmation of the Helsinki principles.
“Some of the worst alleged war criminals remain at large, but it is only a matter of time before they are caught and brought to justice,” added Commissioner and President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). “The international community was universally horrified by the atrocities that we saw in the Balkans. A sharp line has now been drawn in the sand, and the word is out that no nation may cross it.”
This year, with considerable U.S. support, the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber has become operational. This specialized court is part of the effort to complete the work of the ICTY by bringing the focus of the tribunal down to the national level.
“The establishment of specialized courts to try the crimes that have been committed in the region is part of a long-term goal to bring justice closer to home for those who believed that their positions made them immune to justice,” added Chairman Brownback. “Now we are a step closer to achieving that ambition.”