Almost 20 years after Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) upheld the convictions of five men for genocide for what is considered the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
On Friday, the ICTY appeals chamber confirmed the convictions of two Bosnian Serb military officers, in its largest case completed to date.
Vujadin Popović, former chief of security at the Bosnian Serb Army’s Drina Corps, and Ljubiša Beara, former chief of security at the Bosnian Serb Army’s headquarters, had been convicted of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, violations of the laws or customs of war, and crimes against humanity.
The court also upheld the convictions of three other Bosnian Serb officials tried in the same case for aiding and abetting crimes.
The ruling brings a measure of recognition and justice to the victims of the July 1995 genocidal killings. Yet justice for many victims of atrocities during the 1992-1995 war in the Balkans remains out of reach. With the ICTY winding down, the responsibility to hold perpetrators to account falls on national courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia.
While cases of leading figures such as wartime Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić and President Radovan Karadžić are being concluded at the ICTY, domestic courts should ensure that other senior officials implicated in abuses are tried for their crimes. Friday’s verdict should energize the region’s courts.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government should also bring the rest of those responsible for war crimes within its borders to justice and promote the country’s reconciliation process. However, this process has been hampered by a considerable case backlog in domestic war crimes prosecutions. The government has been slow in implementing its national war crimes strategy due to insufficient capacity and funding, particularly at the district and cantonal level. Some high officials continue their politically motivated attacks on the judiciary, and openly question the legitimacy of the State Court and the Prosecutor’s Office.
If Bosnia and Herzegovina is serious about its bid to join the European Union, it needs to step up its efforts to address the case backlog and bring war criminals to justice. Instead of undermining judicial institutions, Bosnian authorities should ensure the courts have the necessary political support and resources to bring the country’s longstanding impunity to an end.