International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was formally established on May 25, 1993 by the UN Security Council through Resolution 827, to prosecute the culprits of the Bosnian War (1992 – 95) which saw the biggest human tragedy witnessed by the world after World War II.
After the Nuremberg trials that took place during 1945-46 to put to trial the culprits of the Nazi genocide, ICTY is the largest court of law in the world of a similar nature. The court that is located in the Hague, Netherlands, has indicted 161 persons so far. ICTY is now in the news for a rare incident that occurred in the court room on November 29. Slobodan Praljak, a Croatian army chief, who was charged with the genocide of Bosnian Muslims was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment in 2013. November 29 was the day of judgement in Praljak’s appeal against his prison term. His appeal was rejected by the court. Wthin moments of the pronouncement of the verdict, Praljak drank poison from a small bottle he brought with him shouting out angrily that he was not a war criminal; the moment the whole court room was stunned. Though 71-year old Praljak was immediately taken to the hospital, he was declared dead- a rarest of the rare incidents in the world. Praljak’s death has brought back Bosnian War once again into the headlines.
Praljak’s life too is as bewildering as his death. He has a university degree in electrical engineering, philosophy and sociology and had been a theatre director. He taught philosophy and sociology at college and lived as a theatre artist. Praljak had also directed several documentaries and TV shows. It was during the time of Bosnian War that he joined the Croatian Defence Army, the military force of the Croats, later rising to the position of army chief. It was a time when Communist Yugoslavia collapsed in 1990 and several republics were declared independent. Bosnia led by Ali Ezzat Begovic, a world famous Muslim philosopher also declared independence after majority of the people backed the referendum to seek independence. But neighbouring Republics of Croatia and Serbia were not ready to recognize the independence of Bosnia. Both the parties made attempts to nip the Bosnian independence in the bud by provoking the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia. This was what led to the notorious Bosnian War. The brutal tragedies that followed is history.
Bosnia and sister independent states had emerged from rump Yugoslavia after the former Communist country, formed under the leadership of Marshal Tito, collapsed. The strange fact is that most of those the ICT found guilty of having presided over such iniquities in the Bosnian war, were leaders of the Communist Party. Thus Bosnia presents a picture of these tall leaders turning instant racists and war-hungry the moment the edifice of Communist party and nation crashed. In fact it was the legendary resistance of the Bosnian people under the leadership of Izzat Begovic and despite the absolute indifference of international community that enabled them survive without being wiped off from the face of the earth. And ever since the war ended in December 1995, that nation was all clamour for justice, which among other factors led to the establishment of the tribunal. The ICT can be credited with having achieved success to a great extent in bringing to justice the leaders who caused the events that became a blot on human history.
Slobodan Praljak is not the first among those convicted in the Bosnian war crimes cases to commit suicide. Two other Serb leaders, Slavko Dokmanović and Milan Babic, had committed suicide during their prison term in the Hague. But the most prominent among those who were found guilty and convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) was Slobodan Milosevic who was Serbian president for a long term, and who died in the Hague jail on 11 March 2006. The reaction of Bosnian people to the suicide of Praljak is that his death does not wipe off the atrocities unleashed against them. News from ICT give us striking messages about the paths of justice. Bosnia in a way tells us the story of men who held high responsibilities and who talked about lofty ideals to the world, turning racist and ruthless all of a sudden – pictures of people who committed unforgivable sins being trapped face to face with justice on the winding stair of history.