The Bigger Picture – Developments in the International Criminal Sphere

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The Bigger Picture – Developments in the International Criminal Sphere

Promoted by National Criminal Lawyers.


The 1990s was a culturally unique and diverse time; it could be said that there was at last some security in the civil rights that were fought for throughout the 1960s, 70s, and 80s and that we could all enjoy those rights. However, that fight was still happening in eastern Europe. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 influenced a chain of global political events. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was characterised by many of the Republics of the Soviet Union declaring independence and becoming sovereign nation states. This was a major trend in the early 1990s, and the Former Yugoslavia followed suit.


The Balkans have had a long and complicated history, made even more complicated by war in the early 1990s. Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. At this point the Socialist Republic was made up mainly of Muslim Bosniaks (44%), Orthodox Serbs (32.5%), and Catholic Croats (17%). Although independence was recognised by the United States and Europe, the referendum was boycotted by the political representatives of the Bosnian Serbs, who rejected it. Following the declaration, Radovan Karadžić led the Bosnian Serbs, with the support of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), and moved their forces inside of Bosnia to secure ethnic Serbian territory, then war and ethnic cleansing spread across the country. This war was the first instance of genocide in Europe since WWII. The conflict was between the Yugoslav Army which later became the Army of Republika Srpska, and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Tensions grew between the Croats and Bosniaks in late 1992, resulting in a Croat-Bosniak War that ran simultaneously with the Serb conflict. The Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre are now the most well-known events of the whole war.


Karadžić was the Bosnian Serb political leader during the conflict. On 20th of March 2019 he was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. He was found guilty of genocide in Srebrenica, persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terrorising the civilian population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage. He was acquitted of genocide in other Bosnian municipalities from 1992. This 20th of March 2019 hearing was the result of an appeal by Karadžić on his original sentence of 40 years imprisonment in 2016. The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals raised his sentence from 40 years in prison, to life. The panel of judges dismissed all but one of Karadžić’sappeals and denounced them as mere disagreements with the Court’s findings.


The Dayton Agreement, which ended the conflict back in 1995, has ensured the political state of Bosnia and Herzegovina remains in 1995, as there is a requirement for representatives of each ethnic group to be in government. Bosnia has three Presidents, one Bosniak, one Bosnian Serb, and one Bosnian Croat, and they disagree on everything. Karadžić hoped to ethnically cleanse self-proclaimed Republika Srpska territory of ethnic Bosniak Muslims and Croats. Many Serbs feel he is a hero, even a student dormitory was named after him in 2016 as students praised the first President of Republika Srpska, all while the Republic goes against the central government in Sarajevo on several issues to this day. Karadžić justified his goals as a means of defending the west from Muslim encroachment. This rhetoric has found its way to some violent right-wing extremists. Allegedly, the suspect in the Christchurch terror attacks, listened to a Serb ballad praising Karadžić’s leadership, on the way to the mosques where the shootings took place.


Karadžić has already filed a motion to appeal the latest sentence on the basis that the court did not take into account the practices of courts in the former Yugoslavia. He claims there is a violation of his human rights, because in the former Yugoslavia the maximum sentence to be handed down was 40 years imprisonment. The former political leader also claims the court failed to provide enough explanation in its decision to increase the sentence. He states the judging panel erred in law and fact when they based their sentence on comparisons made with sentences imposed on others who had been tried and convicted of similar offences. Karadžić also states the panel failed to consider matters that distinguished his case from those other cases, like his voluntary abdication of the presidency of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, his motion stated.


In NSW it is clear that the Prosecution may appeal a sentence if it is considered to be far too lenient.  They must be expedient with such an appeal, however, as it is not fair to have an offender carry out their sentence, come to the end or close to the end of it, ready to start a new life, then have their sentence extended. This begs the question, though, what if the convicted defendant appeals against sentence and/or conviction? Is it possible for the sentence to be extended in this way?

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