The ICTY was established in 1993 as a temporary institution, for the specific purpose of investigating crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and prosecuting those responsible. This was done at a time when the domestic judicial systems in the former Yugoslavia were not able or willing to do so themselves.
By 2003, ten years after its establishment, the Tribunal was operating at full capacity while the various national judicial systems in the region demonstrated varying degrees of intent to improve their ability to handle war crimes cases. Consequently, the Tribunal's judges took the initiative of devising a plan which became known as the 'completion strategy'. Its purpose is to make sure that the Tribunal concludes its mission successfully, in a timely way and in coordination with domestic legal systems in the former Yugoslavia.
A three-phase plan
The three-phase plan was endorsed by the UN Security Council in resolutions 1503 and 1534. It envisioned completion of investigations by the end of 2004, completion of all first instance trials by the end of 2008, and completion of all work in 2010.
The first date was successfully met with the completion of all investigations by 31 December 2004.
Due to the late arrest of the remaining fugitives – the last of which, Goran Hadžić was only arrested on 20 July 2011 - and the sheer complexity of certain cases, initial estimates had to be revised to ensure the highest standards of procedural fairness. In addition, developments related to the health of detainees can sometimes cause delays to the Tribunal’s work.
Transfer of cases and assistance to local judiciaries
The ICTY focuses on the most senior leaders suspected of being responsible for crimes within the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. It has transferred cases against intermediate and lower-level accused to competent national jurisdictions. Domestic prosecutors and courts can also initiate cases without any involvement by the ICTY.
To date, the completion strategy has been a very important catalyst for the strengthening of competent national judicial systems in the former Yugoslavia. With the encouragement of the UN Security Council and the support of the international community, specialised mechanisms for war crimes prosecutions and trials have been set up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. The ICTY has been providing professional advice in the reform of relevant legislation, especially in areas such as command responsibility and witness protection.
The ICTY continues sharing expertise with lawyers and other professionals in the former Yugoslavia through participation in various training programmes and study visits. By transferring evidentiary materials as well as making electronic databases and archives available to national institutions, the Tribunal will ensure an effective transition from an international court to domestic judiciaries.
The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals
An important step of the Completion Strategy is the establishment of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals. It is a new, ad hoc body, established by the UN Security Council resolution 1966 (2010):
• to continue the “jurisdiction, rights and obligations and essential functions” of the ICTY
• to maintain the Tribunal’s legacy.