Adding fuel to the fire’: Unconditional early release of perpetrators convicted by the ICTY, Views from Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Despite being found guilty of atrocity crimes, 54 of the 90 perpetrators sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were granted unconditional early release (UER) between 1998 and 2018. As such, they were free to return, often to be greeted as heroes by welcoming crowds. Some high-profile figures rejected the ICTY’s verdict, such as Biljana Plavšić, asserting that she had done “nothing wrong.” This article sets out how the Tribunal thwarted an expressive value it had purported to achieve through trying and sentencing some of the most egregious crimes known to humankind when they granted UER. This expressive value was an authoritative stigmatization of the perpetrators and their crimes. This perceived destigmatization had, in turn, the capacity to be manipulated by political elites, in an ethnically divided, postconflict society, to challenge the historical record of the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. This article analyzes the societal ramifications of UER, as it examines local reactions to UER that emerged from 51 interviews conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). In January 2019, this practice changed and conditions were attached to early release. Nevertheless, the negative repercussions caused by UER over 18 years provide an important lesson for other ICTs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-607
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Issue number5
Early online date23 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 23 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This belief was affirmed by two interviewees in the Republika Srpska (RS). The first reflected, “the ambience here is quite different; the denial is supported by the political and intellectual elite. There are very few people who are willing to openly acknowledge the crimes committed. A few of them openly speak about atrocities; these are brave people” (interview, witness before the ICTY and detention camp survivor, RS, November 22, 2017). She herself is one of those brave people; as we entered a cafe together for the interview, two groups of men stood up, downed their coffee, and left the cafe. She is an outspoken camp and rape survivor, a Bosniak, in a now Serb-dominated town.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.


  • ICTY
  • Unconditional early release
  • Expressivism
  • War Criminals
  • Victims
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina


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