Will the Hague convictions bring peace to the Balkans?

Francesca Astorri

Published: Updated:

Over 20 years after the crimes against humanity committed during the Bosnian war, two commanders were sentenced by the United Nations-backed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Many, especially in Europe, felt it as a historic moment, associating it with the Nuremberg trials that brought to justice many Nazi war criminals responsible for the Holocaust and the atrocities of the second world war.

“I was in Bosnia in 1995-1996, I was there when those atrocities were committed and I am pleased to see people responsible taken into account for those crimes. I lived through it and I have been following the trial with great interest,” NATO Defense College Commandant, Chris Whitecross, said to Al Arabiya English, talking on the sideline of NATO Defense College Foundation’s conference “The Western Balkans at a crossroads” in Rome, Italy.

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Ratko Mladić, former Bosnian Serb commander, was known as “the butcher of Bosnia” for the role he had in the siege of Sarajevo and in the massacre of Srebrenica where over 8,000 Muslims were killed. Mladić was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICTY.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia sentenced also commander of Croat forces in the 1990s war in Bosnia, Slobodan Praljak: 20 years in jail for war crimes. The fact that he committed suicide after the panel of judges doesn’t make him less of a war criminal in front of the law.

The question now is, are these convictions enough to close that chapter and bring peace to the Balkans?

Too little too late?

As many felt it as an achievement in the name of justice and a fundamental pillar of a successful peace process, others had the impression that two convictions after over 20 years was too little, too late, and that other issues are now threating peace in the area.

“Among the historic tensions and regional fragmentations, there are other issues that are summing up. The European Union integration process in the region has been slowing down, radicalization is raising up along with international criminal networks, plus there are many conflicting political agendas from the US, Russia, China, Turkey… just to mention some”.

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“These factors can be dangerous, considering the situation on the ground, and are surely not helping the peace integration process” Matteo Bressan, Emerging Challenges Analyst at NATO Defense College Foundation, explained to Al Arabiya English.

The Balkan region is known for producing more history than it can digest. As the 1990s painful past starts leaving the cities, moving to tribunals to then eventually find its place in history books, the region is far from a stable peace.