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As War Crimes Tribunal Closes, Some Victims Feel Deprived Of Justice

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The longest-running war crimes court in history will soon close its doors after 24 years. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or the ICTY, just wrapped up its final trial in The Hague, convicting former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic on 10 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Teri Schultz spoke with victims and legal experts about what they believe the court accomplished and what is left undone.

TERI SCHULTZ, BYLINE: Ramiza Gurdic didn't come to The Hague thinking any measure of justice would stop the nightmares she still has - losing her two sons, her husband and 38 relatives in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, which Ratko Mladic has now been found guilty of orchestrating.

RAMIZA GURDIC: (Speaking Serbian)

SCHULTZ: Those days in Srebrenica, Gurdic recalls, were hell on earth, with people killing themselves trying to escape what would befall the rest, the worst massacre on European soil since World War II, as many Bosnian Serbs tried to eradicate their Muslim neighbors. Kelima Dautovic was there, too - gutted, she said, when Mladic was not convicted of genocide throughout Bosnia, including in her hometown of Prijedor in the Serb-controlled area. She and her family had been thrown in a concentration camp - thousands died.

KELIMA DAUTOVIC: Us survivors and victims of that genocide do know that genocide did happen because all non-Serbs in my town were either killed, put in concentration camp or deportated (ph).

SCHULTZ: Chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz hopes others take comfort that all 161 indictees were found and held to account, but even he is sceptical such a record will prevent new crimes from being committed. After all, he notes, more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica two years after the court was created.

SERGE BRAMMERTZ: Of course it's very difficult to measure. Perhaps without the creation of the tribunal, even more would have happened. It is clear that accountability is more the exception than the rule for crimes committed in our world today.

SCHULTZ: International criminal attorney Tarik Abdulhak says the ICTY need not be humble. He was a child in Sarajevo during the war and survived Bosnian Serb hate and incessant shelling to become a prosecutor of atrocity crimes. He says the ICTY has set critical precedence.

TARIK ABDULHAK: All of the various tribunals that have been created post-ICTY from the Rwanda tribunals to Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Bosnia, International Criminal Court, et cetera. All of them have to varying degrees applied not only the substantive law of the ICTY and the substantive principles that the ICTY developed but also rules of procedure, which are often just as important in ensuring that you have fair and expeditious trials.

SCHULTZ: But Abdulhak acknowledges none of those advances have put Bosnia back together. Some say the communities of ethnic Croats, Muslims and Serbs are as bitterly split now as during the conflict. One man who was immortalized in a photo as a skeletal detainee behind barbed wire in a Serb-run camp told me - some people live together, others just live next to each other. Kelima Dautovic laments authorities in her hometown won't allow Muslims to put up a memorial to the victims there. Many people, Dautovic says, are still looking for their loved ones' remains.

DAUTOVIC: They're still waiting for that, you know, to peacefully die.

SCHULTZ: Ramiza Gurdi is one of those. She only has the bones of one of her boys. She thinks of little else, she says, except to hope that Ratko Mladic is haunted by the ghosts of his victims like she's been for 22 years. That, she says, would be justice. For NPR News, I'm Teri Schultz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHARON VAN ETTEN'S "JUST LIKE BLOOD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.