2017 Year in Review - International Criminal Law

By Maura Sokol


Picture: Globe License: Public Domain

2017 marked the end of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which closed out its existence with high profile convictions. Although international justice may have been achieved in these cases, a number of international crimes were committed across the globe in 2017, many of which will remain a threat in 2018.

International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

In November, the ICTY Tribunal in the Hague brought its prosecutions to a close. The ICTY was first created in May 1993, under Resolution 827 by the United Nations Security Council to prosecute international crimes committed during the Yugoslav Wars. This creation of an international, ad hoc tribunal has left an enduring legacy on international criminal law. During its 25 years of existence, 161 individuals have been charged with crimes and 151 have faced trial, with 90 convictions that included major generals and political leaders. All unresolved cases will now be handed over to another ad hoc criminal court, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).

General Radko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army chief known as the “Butcher of Bosnia” was one of the last war criminals convicted in the ICTY. In November, the tribunal sentenced him to life in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Mladic was responsible for thousands of deaths, engaged in ethnic cleansing, and was responsible for the 1995 genocide of Srebrenica and the three-year siege and bombardment of Sarajevo.

During the last hearing of the ICTY, the convicted Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak drew much of the media’s attention by committing suicide in the courtroom after ingesting potassium cyanide. The hearing had been part of an appeal by six Bosnian Croat political and military leaders who were convicted in 2013 of persecuting, expelling and murdering Bosnian Muslims. Praljak ingested the cyanide after the tribunal announced he had lost his appeal. Praljak had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Genocide in Myanmar

The government in Myanmar, once known as Burma, committed horrific violence against the Rohingya, Myanmar’s minority Muslim population, in what the United Nations high commissioner for human rights called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Beginning on August 25th, more than 626,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar and an estimated 9,000 were killed by late September. Hundreds of villages have been destroyed or burned to the ground, and the Associated Press has reported a campaign of mass rape, robbery and torture. Despite widespread condemnation, there has been little action from the international community.

Syrian War Crimes

Efforts to investigate and bring to justice the many war crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regimes continued throughout 2017. In November, Amnesty International published an extensive new report that detailed the regime’s massive campaign of sieges, unlawful killings, and forced displacement through use of “surrender or starve” tactics. The Islamic State has unlawfully killed civilians and used them as human shields, and the US-led coalition has also carried out attacks that led to the death of civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law. By the end of 2017, more than 400,000 people have died and more than 11 million people have been displaced.

Courts in Spain, Germany and Sweden have all attempted to bring individuals to justice for war crimes committed, and in October the first individual was convicted in the conflict and sentenced to eight months in prison in Sweden. 2017 also saw the beginning of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes in Syria, which was established by UN General Assembly at the end of 2016.