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The second seminar within the project "Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional Justice and Culture of Non-impunity" realized with the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

Novi Sad, November 26, 2011.

Students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad were lectured about transitional justice - a complex issue of major importance to Serbia's youth - by Izabela Kisic, executive director of the Helsinki Committee (the role of the media in transitional justice and conflict maintenance in a post-conflict society), Morgiana Brading, representative of the ICTY Belgrade Office (trial before ICTY and their effects), Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of the Helsinki Committee (expert testimonies before ICTY, especially on demographic losses in the 1990s wars in ex-Yugoslavia) and sociologist Janja Bec Neumann (international experience in overcoming trauma in post-traumatic and post-conflict societies). Seska Stanojlovic, vice-president of the Helsinki Committee, acted as a mediator.

Izabela Kisic underlined that the end of a war and armistice did not in themselves imply an end to a conflict, general acknowledgment of a peace agreement and citizens' self-initiative for neighborly relations. This is why a government should develop and implement an all-inclusive concept of transitional justice. "Such a concept is non-existent in Serbia. All we have are several non-governmental organizations concerned with transitional justice. War crime trials before domestic courts the same as those before ICTY produce no public effect, that is they in no way influence public opinion," she said.

According to her, a concept of transitional justice implies digging into both origins and a background of a conflict. "In Serbia, this is an Achilles' heel of the government and elite in the first place. The media have also missed the opportunity to raise the issue. And it was the media that should have raised it because of their role in the warring propaganda: the same as in preparations for the war and its coverage, the media should now play a crucial war in the peace-building process and establishment of neighborly relations with the nations the war had been wagged against. According to OSCE standards the media are integral parts of the peace-building and reconciliation processes," she said among other things.

In Serbia, however, the media are often fueling conflicts and creating tensions. "One can hardly trust Serbian media when they address, say, the crimes committed against Serbs because no media outlet has ever distanced itself from propaganda stories against Croats, Muslims and Albanians in 1990s. That is why stories nothing but deepen conflicts with our neighbors," she said, adding, "Besides, the media do not back the people working on reconciliation. For instance, actors Dragan Bjelogrlic and Sergej Trifunovic all of a sudden became 'traitors' for wearing T-shirts with gen. Jovo Divjak's portrait at the opening night of their movie in Sarajevo. Screening of the movie 'Oh, Boy, Montevideo' in Bosnia-Herzegovina could have been in the function of reconciliation. Instead lead actors were forced to justify themselves for the 'incident' in which they were involved. And the movie missed the opportunity for reconciliation for good," said Ms. Kisic.

To start with Morgiana Brading outlined the history of the tribunal in The Hague and its main mechanisms. She reminded that more than 140,000 persons lost their lives during the wars in the territory of ex-Yugoslavia along with several millions who were forced to leave their homesteads. Up to now, 4,000 witnesses for the prosecution testified about grave breaches of humanitarian law, including the crime of genocide. This number included not only victims but also perpetrators and experts.

ICTY has pressed charges against 161 persons up to now. Out of this number 16 charges were dropped, thirteen people have been freed or died during trials, 16 trials are in process, 17 cases await for appeal and yet another two are in the pre-trial stage (Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic), detailed Ms. Brading.

So far 64 persons have been found guilty and sentenced to over one thousand years in prison in total, and two of them have been given life sentences. More than 20 accused (mostly of the crimes committed in Prijedor and genocide in Srebrenica) confessed. The trials before ICTY contributed to the international humanitarian law as sexual crimes against both women and men were for the first time established as crimes against humanity.

Ms. Brading also emphasized ICTY's contribution to the "historical records" of brutal wars wagged in these territories with millions of pages of documentation.

This huge archive is already treated as the most precious and probably the most important part of ICTY's heritage, said Sonja Biserko. "Some topics in this treasury are most specific, others are multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary. For instance, law schools all over the world already quote specific cases over their courses in international criminal law. Some sentences have been printed in textbooks, while numbers of legal magazines are investigating special cases, jurisprudence and practice of ICTY and other similar tribunals," said Ms. Biserko.

Sonja Biserko specifically focused on scientific and even more lay debates on the number of war victims. We have witnessed numerous historical and political manipulations in these debates given that different parties in the conflict had insisted on their figures and estimates. "Just watch the ongoing debate on demographic losses in Yugoslavia in WWII. Political controversies accompanying it are overemphasized. The more so commendable is the work of demographers, pioneers in this area, who have compiled information for the tribunal in The Hague and developed statistical models for scientific research," she said.

Bidding with the number of victims and denial of genocide still embody the governmental strategy, said Janja Bec Neumann. Any state and any nation with persons who have bloodied their hands have problems with acknowledging the truth and for them, as a rule, this process takes time. Recently a monument with 67,000 names of Holocaust victims with their names inscribed was erected in Vienna. The figure stands for one-third of Jewish population in Austria till WWII. After WWII more than 400,000 persons in Belgium were accused of collaboration: 56,000 of them were put on trial and 262 executed. However, it was only in 2009 that the Belgian government apologized to victims for these crimes committed by Belgian policemen in tandem with SS troops.

Ms. Neumann specifically addressed the "trans-generational trauma transfer" phenomenon: a "wall of silence" between parents and their children erected after a traumatic experience and so transferring trauma from one generation to another.

Referring to other countries' experiences in overcoming domestic conflicts she invoked South Africa and its Truth and Reconciliation Commission the effect of which was amnesty for some 200,000 people. In Rwanda, for instance, where the number of potential culprits is so large that trials would be practically impossible tribal meetings at which perpetrators and victims come face to face are organized in villages. She also touched on the experiences of Uruguay, Guatemala and Argentina from different angles.

In the ensuing debate the students participating in the seminar were mostly interested in the developments in ex-Yugoslav wars. They wanted to learn more about the trials of the accused before ICTY, notably the trial of Vojislav Seselj, as well as about "ethnic empathy" dependent on context - either with perpetrators or victims.



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