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  What is a war criminal?
Updated 18 February 2002, 17.54

Citizenship 11-14/KS3/Levels E&F
Human rights

Slobodan Milosevic is the best known of 75 detainees indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. They are charged with war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.

Students devise some rules for a war they must fight in.

Learning aims

  • What a war crime is
  • Why there are rules for war
Read the story

Can you ever be beyond the law? How do students feel about the way rules are used in the following imaginary situations?

Situation 1: You are riding home on the bus and a teacher gets on. She walks up to you - she sees that you are chewing gum. She tells you to spit it into the bin, as it is against school rules to chew gum. How would you feel?

Situation 2:You are round at a friend's house working on your bikes in the garden. For a laugh you spray paint your names on their garden fence. It is going to be repainted the next day anyway. The police turn up and tell you that a neighbour has complained and you are going to be charged with vandalism. How would you feel?

Situation 3: A man on your street has been beating his dog. You are out walking when you see him repeatedly kicking his dog. You report him to the authorities but they say: 'It's his dog he can do what he wants to it'. How would you feel?

Rules about chewing gum and damaging property only apply in certain circumstances. Rules about how you treat an animal should probably apply everywhere. Why is this?

Main activity
Rules about how you behave in a war

Explain that:
Slobodan Milosevic was the President of Yugoslavia. Before this he had won the elections for prime minister of Serbia. Most people in that country supported him. Three years after he was elected, Yugoslavia entered a time of civil war and began to break into smaller countries.

What is he accused of?
There are questions about how he treated ethnic minority groups in his country and in the smaller countries. It is alleged he deliberately made decisions that caused suffering, made people leave their homes and left them open to attack from their enemies in a time of war. Hundreds of thousands were killed.

Students work through the following questions

  • Why might some people want Milosevic to be taken to court?
  • Why might Milosevic say he shouldn't be taken to court?

Draw up rules for a 'fair war'
Divide the class into two equal halves. The students and their families are to fight each other in a civil war. Before the conflict commences they have a chance to set rules of behaviour.

Each side produces its own rules. Then they negotiate a compromise deal.

Areas could include:

  • Younger brothers and sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Ceasefire
  • Burning of houses
  • Acceptable weapons
  • Where and by whom will violations of the law be tried?
What are the benefits of having these rules?

Extension activity
Apart from war, what other areas could benefit from a court and a set of rules that are 'higher' than any one country?

  • Endangered animals
  • Nuclear weapons
  • The environment
  • Fair trade
    Pick one area and draw up a set of rules.

    Having war crimes tribunals can help protect human rights. What are the practical problems in trying war crimes?
    - Collecting evidence
    - Reliable witnesses
    - Catching suspects

    Teachers' Background

    • The tribunal is the first international body for the prosecution of war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials held in the aftermath of World War II.

    • The ICTY was established by resolution 827 of the UN Security Council in May 1993 and all UN members are obliged to co-operate fully with it.

    • It has jurisdiction over individuals responsible for war crimes committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991.

    • The maximum sentence it can hand down is life imprisonment.

    • The tribunal has large teams of investigators working across the former Yugoslavia but it does not have its own police force and instead relies on the former Yugoslav republics or the international peace forces, S-For and K-For in Bosnia and Kosovo, to make arrests.

    • The tribunal's staff as of April 2001 numbers 1,103 people from 74 countries and the budget for 2001 is $96,443,900.

    For all links and resources click at top right.

  • More InfoBORDER=0
    WorldMilosevic on trial for war crimes
    WorldMilosevic denies war crimes
    Find OutGuide to Slobodan Milosevic


    BBC Links
    BBC News Online : The rise and fall of Milosevic



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