Ashmi (year 11) visited The Hague to view one of the longest running international war crime trials in history. Read her experience below.
On Wednesday the 25th of January, I went to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague to watch an appeal hearing in a case relating to war crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1995.
The accused, Jovica Stanšić and Franko Simatović, were both high-level state security officials in Serbia, and they were convicted in 2021 of aiding and abetting war crimes committed against non-Serbs in one town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosanski Šamac. This conviction was important because it was the first that connected Serbian government officials to crimes committed in Bosnia.
In the appeals hearing that I watched, the prosecution argued that they should also be convicted of crimes committed in towns and villages in Western Srem, in Croatia, and Sanski Most, in Bosnia. The prosecutor argued that they were members of a joint criminal enterprise to ethnically cleanse non-Serbs from these areas to then join them to a Greater Serbia. The prosecution sought to prove that the accused funded and trained a paramilitary unit called the Serbian Volunteer Guard, which was notorious for violently persecuting Croatian and Bosnian Muslims. The defense argued that they should be acquitted of all charges. The defense also referred frequently to the fact that the case had been going on for 20 years which makes this one of the longest ongoing international war crime trials. The pair had been acquitted after their first trial that started in 2003, however the prosecution appealed and they were granted a retrial, after which they were convicted.
The arguments and rebuttals of both the prosecution and the defense were very interesting to hear, and I consider myself lucky to have witnessed a segment of the last trial for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.