Summary of "Justice in a Time of War: The True Story Behind the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia"

Summary of

Justice in a Time of War: The True Story Behind the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

By Pierre Hazan

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Hazan, Pierre. 2004. Justice in a Time of War: The True Story Behind the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. College Station: Texas A & M University Press.

Pierre Hazan, journalist with Paris' Liberation and Le Temps in Geneva, provides a biting history of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. One of the most remarkable aspects of the story is that, given the tribunal's inauspicious beginnings, it has ultimately been able to achieve so much. The book uses the present tense, which while jarring at times, gives the narrative an immediacy that will keep the reader engaged.

Clearly, the idea of an international court to deal with violations of international law was not an entirely new phenomenon in the early 1990s. Some sort of body had been considered after World War I, but the idea came to fruition after World War II, particularly at Nuremberg. Any further movement was hampered by the Cold War. With the Soviet Union collapses, new hope is revived and this is where Hazan begins his story. An international tribunal was given serious consideration after the Gulf War to try Saddam Hussein. The idea quickly faded, Hazan suggests because Western governments feared the trial would reveal embarrassing details of how the West helped build Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s.

One year later, war in the Balkans blanketed news coverage and the Americans and Europeans felt increasing pressure to do something. The Americans and the French, foreign minister Roland Dumas in particular, gradually came around to see a tribunal as a low cost way in which to be seen as doing something about the violence. As diplomatic discussions ensued as to the nature of a prospective court, interests diverged. Having peacekeeping troops in Bosnia, the British and the French were reluctant to be too draconian for fear their soldiers would be the target of reprisals. Without a similar problem, the US irritated Britain and France by frequently seeking out the moral high ground. These concerns, coupled with the conviction that the war criminals would be needed for the diplomatic task of ending the war, led the UN Security Council to create first investigative commissions and eventually the tribunal, but to give them few resources to be effective. Hazan nicely chronicles the diplomatic twists and turns along the path to the realization of the tribunal.

The judges chosen resolved to work on despite the lack of support from the West. Persistent media attention led the new Clinton administration to see value in the tribunal. It provided funds and expertise to energize the Office of the Prosecutor. The prosecutor position remained unfilled and the tribunal would go nowhere without one. Hazan describes the process through which Richard Goldstone becomes the first prosecutor. The tribunal initially is displeased with Goldstone's delicate approach - they want more indictments issued. After the Srebrenica massacre, they began to see more eye-to-eye. However, the West concluded that this made negotiation for peace more necessary. The tribunal reacted to the Dayton accords, which endorsed impunity, by initiating Rule 61 hearings, which permitted the public airing of evidence with the accused in absentia.

In the latter half of the 1990s, these patterns by and large persisted. The Americans wavered between seeing the tribunal as useful and favoring a diplomatic solution that they believed required the participation of the masterminds. The relationship between the justices and the prosecutor was also cool at times, even after Louise Arbour took over the position. The explosion of violence in Kosovo proved another turning point. Hazan describes the debates within the tribunal about getting involved and how the collapse of the Rambouillet negotiations led the West to finally conclude the Milosevic was not someone they could negotiate with fruitfully. The decision by NATO to conduct a bombing campaign without a UN mandate put the ICTY in the difficult position of having to determine whether NATO political and military leaders should themselves by indicted. Arbour and her replacement, Carla del Ponte, decided not to pursue the matter and, despite releasing details of the basis of the decision, were heavily criticized.

The story would obviously not be complete without an examination of the Milosevic trial. Hazan describes the politics behind the indictments issuance and the political and economic pressure the US in particular put on the Yugoslav government to turn him over to the Tribunal. Once in custody and on trial, Milosevic has served as his own defense attorney and has been able to use the platform to denounce Western aggression, intimidate witnesses, and to speak to constituencies in the Balkans. In an effort to appear evenhanded, the ICTY has given him wide latitude.

More generally, Hazan reveals an ICTY that does not appear to have had a dramatic impact on the societies it is seeking to effect. It does not have a strong voice in the Balkans, nor is it well regarded. Many who have come before it as victims have not gotten the satisfaction they had hoped for.