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Historical Overview: The Ethnic Wars Phenomena Towards the End of the Second Millennium and Some Problems of Investigation of War Crimes (From Policing in Central and Eastern Europe: Dilemmas of Contemporary Criminal Justice, P 396-406, 2004, Gorazd Mesko, et al., eds. -- See NCJ-207973)

NCJ Number
Darko Maver
Date Published
September 2004
11 pages

This paper examines ethnic wars near the end of the 20th century and issues in the investigation of war crimes associated with them, with case studies from Slovenia and its 10-day war for independence in 1991.


As discussed in this paper, the definition of "war" or "armed conflict" is that adopted by the Scandinavian School, i.e., there is armed hostility; one side in the conflict is a government; and there are at least 25 casualties per year (1,000 for "war"). This paper argues that international laws of war should apply in any such armed conflict, no matter the status of prisoners and combatants. Ethical and legal obligations should govern everyone involved in an armed conflict, from the top commanders and politicians to every soldier in the field. All persons who take up arms to participate in mass killings for whatever reason must be expected to know and abide by the rules of Geneva and other international conventions and expect sanctions regardless of their level of authority in the chain of command. According to the Nuremberg principles, war crimes are crimes against peace (aggression), violations of the law or customs of war (grave breaches of international conventions), and crimes against humanity. This paper discusses the various legal, political, and practical problems associated with the investigation, prosecution, and trial of cases that allege war crimes and crimes against humanity. Issues in peacekeeping operations are discussed as well. The author addresses legal problems, the identification of victims, the identification and search for offenders, the testimony of victims and witnesses, the testimony and defense of suspects, material evidence, experts, and the involvement of politics. Two case studies involving Slovenia are presented to illustrate the various issues involved in addressing war crimes committed after World War II and war crimes committed during the 10-day war for independence in 1991. Lessons are drawn for armed conflict in general. 13 references