A U.N. war crimes tribunal has sentenced a Bosnian Serb general, Stanislav Galic, to 20 years in prison for ordering his troops to fire on civilians. It was the tribunal's first decision related to the brutal siege of Sarajevo, which Galic commanded from 1992 to 1994. Where will Galic and other Yugoslavian war criminals serve their sentences?
In one of eight European countries that have entered into special agreements with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Based in The Hague, the ICTY lacks any incarceration facilities beyond a small detention unit, where defendants awaiting trial are held. And the tribunal is loath to transfer prisoners back to the Balkans, fearing violent retaliation in the prison system there. The solution has been a series of "enforcement of sentences" agreements with nations willing to host the controversial prisoners. Italy was the first to offer its penal services, in 1997, and Finland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, France, Spain, and Denmark later signed on.
The determination as to where Galic heads largely depends on which of these nations is willing to take him and which can provide the safest and most secure environment. As part of their agreements, nations that accept ICTY prisoners must allow the Red Cross to inspect the premises at will to guarantee that conditions are humane. (The exception is Spain, whose agreement stipulates that it will accept inspections by an independent commission rather than the Red Cross.) At least one ICTY defendant has complained that the inspection regimen has so far proved inadequate. Former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, transferred to a Swedish women's prison in June to serve an 11-year sentence, recently complained that the guards are filling her cell with poisonous gas each night. Swedish officials deny the charges.
Two ICTY defendants, Dusko Tadic and Dragoljub Kunarac, are incarcerated in Germany, though that country has not entered into an enforcement-of-sentences agreement with the tribunal. Tadic was arrested in Munich in 1994, and the German authorities indicted him on charges of murder and torture; the Germans transferred him to the ICTY for trial but reserved the right to house him for his prison term. As for Kunarac, because he had relatives in Germany, the ICTY asked the country if it would make an exception and keep him so his family could visit during his incarceration.
Such consideration may seem unusual, but international law frowns upon incarcerating criminals too far from their homelands; that's why the ICTY has hammered out agreements with European countries. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has adopted a similar philosophy in dealing with its prisoners, sending the convicted to Mali, Benin, and Swaziland.
Explainer thanks Tim Curry of the War Crimes Research Office at the American University Washington College of Law.