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Over 100 representatives from judicial institutions, civil society organizations and victims associations attended a conference in Sarajevo on the legacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY. The goal of the conference was to find ways of building on the work the Hague tribunal, for the benefit of the people of the Balkans, after it closes next year.
Nerma Jelacic, Head of Communications for the ICTY, said that the conference had brought all those affected by the work of the Tribunal together, to see how they view its legacy 19 years after it was created.
“Every civil society organization, and every judicial system, in the region must have its say on what should be done with the vast amount of evidence and materials in the possession of the court”, said Jelacic.
The conference – which took place in the Holiday Inn hotel in Sarajevo on November 6 – was opened by the deputy president of the ICTY, Carmel Agius, who expressed his hope that the decisions, evidence and archives of the Tribunal would help Bosnian society on its way to a better future.
“Just as a house cannot be built on poor foundations, this country cannot move forward without facing the past. The mission of the ICTY is to inspire future generations to ensure the rule of law and reconciliation”, said Agius.
The significance of the Hague Tribunal to the work of the Bosnian State judiciary, especially in war crime cases, was highlighted by Peter Sorensen, the EU Special representative, and Bosnian judge Hilmo Vucinic.
Vucinic said that the most important part of the ICTY legacy were the facts it had established through its work, and added that as the first ad hoc tribunal for war crimes it signalled the end of impunity for the perpetrators of those crimes.
However, fierce arguments broke out between representatives of the various victims associations, over the importance of war crimes trials in The Hague.
The view of two Bosniak representatives of victims associations from Prijedor and Srebrenica , Edin Ramulic and Kada Hotic, was that the work of the of the ICTY was an important model for ‘all judicial processes’ in the region, but this view was not shared by the Bosnian Serb representative Branko Dukic.
“I wish foreigners would stop interfering with us here in Bosnia”, said Dukic.
Several of the journalists and researchers who took part in the conference highlighted the importance that all ICTY verdicts are public, at the same time criticizing the Bosnian judiciary which has recently brought new legislation under which war crimes verdicts are anonymized.
The participants concluded that individualization of guilt for committed crimes is one of the most important legacies of the ICTY, while the recent decision not to make names of perpetrators public brings back the time of “collective guilt”.
“Never before has there been a case where courts have decided to anonymize cases of such importance and magnitude,” said Refik Hodzic, the communications director of the International Center of Transitional Justice.
Further conferences on the ICTY legacy will take place in Zagreb and Belgrade throughout November this year.