The Witnesses

The Witnesses: War Crimes and the Promise of Justice in The Hague

Eric Stover
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt3fhm43
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  • Book Info
    The Witnesses
    Book Description:

    In recent years, the world community has demonstrated a renewed commitment to the pursuit of international criminal justice. In 1993, the United Nations established two ad hoc international tribunals to try those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Ten years later, the International Criminal Court began its operations and is developing prosecutions in its first two cases (Congo and Uganda). Meanwhile, national and hybrid war crimes tribunals have been established in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, East Timor, Indonesia, Iraq, and Cambodia. Thousands of people have given testimony before these courts. Most have witnessed war crimes, including mass killings, torture, rape, inhumane imprisonment, forced expulsion, and the destruction of homes and villages. For many, testifying in a war crimes trial requires great courage, especially as they are well aware that war criminals still walk the streets of their villages and towns. Yet despite these risks, little attention has been paid to the fate of witnesses of mass atrocity. Nor do we know much about their experiences testifying before an international tribunal or the effect of such testimony on their return to their postwar communities. The first study of victims and witnesses who have testified before an international war crimes tribunal, The Witnesses examines the opinions and attitudes of eighty-seven individuals-Bosnians, Muslims, Serbs, and Croats-who have appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0378-3
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 Introduction: The Pursuit of Justice
    (pp. 1-16)

    One day in February 1998, as a Croatia Airlines flight made its final descent into Zagreb, a man we will call Dean Levic² leaned his forehead against the plane’s window and gazed down on the red-tiled roofs of his homeland. The day before in The Hague he had held a courtroom spellbound as he described how Serb troops had removed over two hundred men from a hospital in his hometown and gunned them down on a remote farm in eastern Croatia. Dean had been surprised, astonished even, at his own poise and confidence on the stand as he stood a...

  5. Chapter 2 Witnesses in the System
    (pp. 17-32)

    Little, if anything, is known about the experiences of victims and witnesses who have testified before international war crimes tribunals. What we do know is anecdotal, based largely on accounts given to the press by past witnesses. A review of the English literature covering the hundreds of war crimes trials held after World War II reveals not a single empirical study of witnesses and their perceptions of the trial process.² In fact, little mention is made of witnesses beyond their appearance at trial and the probative value of their testimony in determining a verdict.³ Two U.S.–based institutions—Steven Spielberg’s...

  6. Chapter 3 The Tribunal
    (pp. 33-50)

    On May 25, 1993, as ethnic cleansing raged across the cities and towns of Bosnia, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 827 and thereby gave birth to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991. Why such a court, the first since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials, was ever created in the first place remains a subject of debate. Some say it was due to the guilt on the part of Western nations for allowing ethnic cleansing to tear Bosnia asunder....

  7. Chapter 4 Crimes and Consequences
    (pp. 51-70)

    In the course of my research, I interviewed eighty-seven ICTY witnesses who had testified in at least one of seven trials at the Hague tribunal. The trials can be clustered into three geographical areas. The first involves the trial of a single defendant—a Croatian Serb—from the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar. He and three others were charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed after Vukovar fell to Yugoslav forces in November 1991. The second geographical area involves six trials of eleven defendants—all Bosnian Croats—for war crimes committed during the 1993 occupation of predominantly Muslim...

  8. Chapter 5 Bearing Witness
    (pp. 71-91)

    What does “bearing witness” before an international war crimes tribunal mean to a woman who has been held captive and repeatedly raped by members of a paramilitary gang who were once her classmates? Or to a teenager who watched his neighbors slaughter his entire family? Does testifying in a criminal trial bring “closure” to victims or temper desire for revenge? Does it enable them to forgive their former tormentors? And, in a larger sense, do war crimes trials help divided communities “come to terms with the past” and reconcile their differences?

    These are profound questions, but they are urgent and...

  9. Chapter 6 Returning Home
    (pp. 92-109)

    Within a day of completing their testimony, ICTY witnesses are usually on their way home. Some return to their communities feeling bitter about their time at the tribunal. Others arrive elated and unburdened, ready to start a new life. Most witnesses, however, are far less sanguine. They feel distressed about returning to their economically depressed towns and villages, where interethnic tensions and animosities still bubble to the surface. One witness told me that she sat in her hotel room in The Hague, so upset at the prospect of returning to Bosnia, she fantasized about throwing away her passport.

    Witnesses who...

  10. Chapter 7 Justice and Reconciliation
    (pp. 110-125)

    What do those most affected by mass violence think of such abstract terms as “justice” and “reconciliation”? Must justice always be retributive? Do victim-witnesses who have testified before an international tribunal believe courts in their own countries can hold fair trials in the aftermath of war? And do trials involving massive crimes like genocide ever truly individualize guilt?

    Most of the witnesses I interviewed for this book were adamant that all suspected war criminals in the former Yugoslavia, regardless of their ethnicity, should be arrested and tried for their alleged crimes. When asked if it would not be better “to...

  11. Chapter 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 126-154)

    In one of his early books Primo Levi writes about leaving Auschwitz with his fellow camp survivors and making the long journey home: “The need to tell our story to ‘the rest,’ to make ‘the rest’ participate in it, had taken on for us … the character of an immediate and violent impulse, to the point of competing with our most elementary needs.” Arriving in Munich, Levi felt “an urgent need to settle accounts, to ask, to explain and comment” to every German he met on the street. “Did ‘they’ know? … If they did not, they ought, as a...

  12. Appendix A: Survey Questionnaire
    (pp. 155-158)
  13. Appendix B: Victimsʹ Rights and the International Criminal Court
    (pp. 159-186)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-212)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 213-218)
  16. Index
    (pp. 219-228)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 229-230)