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Prosecuting the Crime of Genocide

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The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended in 1995 with a peace agreement negotiated in Dayton, Ohio. It established two state “entities”: the Serb Republic, which includes Srebrenica, and the Bosnian Federation joined by a weak central government. Refugees were guaranteed the right to return to their homes, but only a fraction of the prewar Bosniak population has gone back to Srebrenica.

For the survivors in Bosnia, one of the most difficult aspects of the aftermath has been the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to loved ones. This was made even more difficult in Srebrenica, where, after the genocide ended, Bosnian Serb officials dug up the mass graves of their victims and reburied the bodies across a wide swath of territory in an effort to conceal their crimes.

International and national authorities have attempted to discover what happened to the more than 20,000 people listed as missing throughout Bosnia. In the decades following the conflict, more than half the bodies have been identified, including several thousand from Srebrenica.


On May 25, 1993, while the conflict in Bosnia continued—and a full year before the genocide at Srebrenica—the UN Security Council created the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to prosecute the perpetrators of the atrocities. It was the first such tribunal since Nuremberg and the first mandated to prosecute the crime of genocide, among other offenses.

Situated in The Hague, the Netherlands, the ICTY charged 161 people. These include heads of state, army chiefs-of-staff, cabinet ministers, and many other high- and mid-level political, military, and police leaders from various parties to the conflict. Its indictments address crimes committed from 1991 to 2001 against members of various ethnic groups in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. More than 80 people have been convicted, and trials are expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

In 2001, the ICTY ruled that genocide had occurred in Srebrenica. Judges have also ruled that rape was used by members of the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of terror and that a “hellish orgy of persecution” occurred in concentration camps of northwestern Bosnia. In 2007, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined that Serbia violated the Genocide Convention by not doing enough to prevent genocide in Srebrenica.

The most high profile prosecutions include: 

  • Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian military leader, was transferred to the ICTY in 2001. He died during his trial in 2006. 
  • Radovan Karadzic, the former Supreme Commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, was extradited to The Hague 13 years after his indictment on genocide charges for allegedly organizing the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. He has been charged with genocide, complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, willful killing, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts, and other crimes committed against Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat, and other non-Serb civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992–1995 war. He was found guilty of genocide in March 2016 and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Karadzic is appealing the conviction. 
  • Ratko Mladic, accused of ordering the Srebrenica genocide, went on trial in 2012. Closing arguments began in December 2016, a verdict is expected in 2017.
  • Responding to a lawsuit filed by the “Mothers of Srebrenica,” the Hague Court of Appeal ruled in June 2017 that the Netherlands was partly responsible for the deaths of approximately 350 Muslims in Srebrenica. Dutch-national UN peacekeepers turned the men under their protection over to Bosnian Serbs, a contributing event in a genocide that eventually claimed over 8,000 lives.