Punishment and Sentence Enforcement for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Former Yugoslavia

The MPPG research project on ‘Punishment and Sentence Enforcement for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Former Yugoslavia’ is part of RF III on ‘International Sentencing’. Its focus is placed on empirically investigating the after-trial phase of ICTY’s (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia) procedures, or to be more exact, the enforcement of its sentences – a field of study that has so far not been investigated.

Marking the ‘rebirth’ of international criminal justice in the midst of gross human rights violations in the early 1990s in the Balkans, the ICTY has with its sentencing practice been influencing not only the relations among former conflicting parties in the region, but also the development of international criminal law in general; arguably the most important international reaction to atrocities worldwide. As such, it has introduced a distinctive system for the enforcement of its sentences – also subsequently adopted by other international criminal tribunals – where, in absence of an international prison system, international convicts are sent to serve their sentences in national prison systems of various European states.

The nature of such enforcement system brings up questions which challenge the legitimacy of international punishment as an accepted instrument of social control. First and foremost, the research evaluates the adequacy of national prison systems, in terms of conditions, regimes and programs, to purposefully address a distinctive nature of criminality which differentiates most of international prisoners from ordinary prison population. Secondly, considering dispersion of international prisoners among various national states, the research measures the level of standardization of such enforcement, the factor of great influence on the overall perception of ICTY punishments. Consequently, the research evaluates to what extent the enforcement and its outcome purposefully contribute to the overarching principle of international criminal justice, that is, the restoration and maintenance of peace among conflicting parties.

The systematic empirical inquiry into punitive approaches that have been developed towards the ICTY convicts is heavily based on qualitative methodology, namely, exploratory interviews with imprisoned ICTY convicts, released ex-prisoners, prison staff and ICTY officials. As such, the research project encompasses an extensive, meticulously prepared fieldwork which entails traveling to the enforcing European states as well as the Balkan region. Consequently, the project findings will not only contribute to the exploration and description of the current state of art in the field, thus filling the existing research gap, but also result in a set of recommendations for improved treatment of international prisoners.

MPPG contact for this project: Mr. Filip Vojta