Was the ICTY a legally-established criminal court?
When the 2nd World War ended in Europe in April 1945, the victorious allies moved quickly to try to ensure that such a conflict could never happen again. A central plank in their plan was the creation of the United Nations. The founding nations focused their discussions around principles set down by the international team of prosecutors following their experiences during the Nuremberg war crime trials.
The Nuremberg principles were drawn up with great care to ensure that the core powers of the UN were vested in its member states and could not be exercised without their unanimous approval. These principles were faithfully embodied in the UN Charter, which has never been amended. One of the key decisions taken during the creation of the UN Charter was that the UN would have no power to establish an international criminal court of any kind. If the UN wanted to do so, it could either amend its Charter on the basis of a unanimous vote of all member states, or it could convene an international conference to approve a proposal.
The ICTY was not set up in either of these ways. What happened was that the UN Security Council, a committee made up of only 15 of the world’s most powerful sovereign states, decided that the dangers of humanitarian catastrophe in Yugoslavia were such that they were justified, under humanitarian powers set down in Chapter VII of the UN Charter, in assuming the power to set up an International Tribunal in an attempt to prevent catastrophe. Their sole justification for this was that a group of French ‘jurists’ had met to consider the issues and, within just a few weeks, had produced a report concluding that this course of action was legal. Since the Yugoslav conflicts were in all cases civil conflicts, not international conflicts as required under Chapter VII, this justification was groundless. The UN’s attempts to argue this point on the basis that Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia had declared their independence in 1992/3 were groundless: none of the Yugoslav Republics came anywhere near to meeting the established requirements for statehood set down in the Convention of Montevideo 1933 and The Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe 1975.
[“The participating states will respect the territorial integrity of each of the participating states. Accordingly they will refrain from any action …against the territorial integrity, political independence, or the unity of any participating state”. Recognising Slovenia and Croatia, Germany made a deliberate decision to violate the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, which under the Helsinki Acts was one of the “participating states”. This generated hardly a word of protest.]
When the ICTY came to indict and try war crimes suspects, repeated attempts were made by defence teams to challenge the ICTY’s legitimacy. Instead of referring this matter to an apparently independent authority, such as the International Criminal Court, the ICTY itself considered the representations and, as might be expected, rejected them in every instance.
In legal terms, therefore, it is crystal clear that the ICTY was set up illegally and consequently had no standing as an international court. Indeed, there was no attempt whatsoever to set it up via proper legal process. It follows that everything the ICTY did during its existence was illegal and ultra vires. It had no jurisdiction. All its proceedings were fraudulent, all its verdicts and sentences unsound and unsafe. Its entire existence was an affront to international law and a travesty of justice.