Op-Ed: Protecting global human rights

Monday, March 26, 2018 - 6:24pm

Nothing summons up visions of Valentine’s Day like roses, a box of chocolates or a roundtable on international law and justice. On Feb. 14, the University of Michigan International Institute hosted a roundtable to commemorate the closing of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2017 after 24 years of international justice. This roundtable event looked at whether the future of international law and justice is brighter due to the ICTY. I agree with Law professor Steven Ratner, who claimed that instead of seeing the glass as half full or half empty, the glass is only 5 percent full. 

The ICTY was established by the United Nations Security Council in 1993 following the outbreak of violence and conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The mission of the ICTY was to try and prosecute those involved in committing human rights atrocities such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Some of the University’s brightest minds in human rights and international law gathered on the 10th floor of Weiser Hall to discuss the successes and failures of the ICTY and the future of international justice. Among these experts were John Ciorciari, associate professor of Public Policy, research associate Robert Donia and Ratner, joined by Dermot Groome, a law professor at Pennsylvania State University.

Ratner qualified his rather pessimistic view of a drop of water in the bottom of the cup by adding that the ICTY does still have redeeming qualities. Before the ICTY there was no glass.

Progress has been made in international law and justice and the ICTY is greatly responsible for some of this progress. Before the ICTY, the most recent trials prosecuting war crimes were the Nuremberg trials and Tokyo War Crimes trials following World War II. Like Ratner said at the panel on Wednesday, without the ICTY, it would still be considered acceptable to grant amnesty to human rights criminals. This is no small accomplishment.

However, the ICTY did not accomplish its long-term and most important goal of preventing future human rights crimes. The ICTY was not able to deter actors in the Balkan Wars from committing war crimes and human rights violations in the eight years following its creation. Bosnian Serbs murdered thousands of Muslims in the Srebrenica Massacre of 1995. Even those being held directly accountable in the ICTY were not deterred from committing these crimes. There was never a hope of it deterring actors around the world from doing the same.

Today, we still see mass atrocities throughout the world. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons and barrel bombs against civilian populations. The Rohingya are being discriminated against and driven from their homes in Myanmar, leading to over half a million Rohingya refugees. Human rights violations and war crimes are being committed daily around the globe with no perceived effect from the ICTY.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was recognized as the global standard by the United Nations, yet to this day we continue to see its principles of equality and security ignored. While we live in a world where the human rights of a single person are violated, the United Nations cannot consider itself successful in protecting the human rights of the global community.

The ICTY was not enough to establish a standard of respect for human rights in the global context. It is the United Nations’s and every world leader’s responsibility to hold their allies and enemies to the UDHR in all their actions and punish those that do not with international pressure and sanctions.

Audrey Gilmour is an LSA junior.