I do not think that the Tribunal excluded victims in the beginning on purpose, I believe it was just a matter of logistics and organisation.
Velma Saric is Founder and President of the Post-Conflict Research Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She speaks about the role and place of victims before the ICTY.
Interview conducted by Pol Vila Sarria
1. When the ICTY was created by Resolution 827 of the Security Council, victims were not granted the status of party to appear represented in the Courtroom. In your opinion why do you think the drafters of the Statute excluded the participation of victims? Was it a more perpetrator-conviction centred approach?
The ICTY was the first criminal court of its kind after the Nuremberg trials and it was opened in 1993 – while international crimes were still happening in BiH. This is important to note, since it takes time to prepare the cases and create strategies on how the crimes are going to be prosecuted and systematized. I believe that it is logical and understandable that victims were not included in the process right away because 1) the war was still ongoing, 2) it takes time to gather all the documentation and decide which people are relevant witnesses, 3) not all victims want to be included in the court processes and it takes time to explain to them why is it important to be included, especially in the mid-1990s when Bosnia and its people were just starting to recover from the war horrors. I do not think that the Tribunal excluded victims in the beginning on purpose, I believe it was just a matter of logistics and organisation.
2. Do you think the non-participation of victims in the ICTY had a negative impact for the tribunal, in the victims’ eyes?
Considering my previous response, I believe that victims were included in ICTY’s work. There have been over 4500 witnesses in ICTY and significant number of them were victims of the war. Taking into consideration that the engagement of victims takes time and it’s a process, I believe that this number is still significant. We need to be aware that in order to engage a war victim in any court process, the victim must 1) be willing to participate; 2) receive enough psycho-social support to avoid re-traumatisation. This is a very big process that starts with questioning (before the one in the court), it has big social and mental consequences on the person and I really believe that victims were not excluded in this process and the numbers of victims might not be huge, but it is still significant and relevant.
3. Do you think that the participation of victims in the ICTY would have enhanced the process of reconciliation?
I do believe the testimonies of victims are significant in the reconciliation process. However, I believe the reconciliation process includes many more, bigger factors besides this. This includes a complex set of activities and notions, including political will, reparations for the victims, adoption and implementation of strategies and law that impacts the processes of transitions (such as state law on memorialization), among others.
4. Are there any complementary mechanisms for rendering justice to victims in BiH, apart from criminal courts?
As mentioned above, I believe the reconciliation process is failing mostly due to the lack of political will to make important changes and support the process of reconciliation. Many other mechanisms can help render justice to victims, including the right to a remedy and reparation for victims, guarantees of non-repetition, political acknowledgment, fight against denial of crimes, state laws regulating memorialization and strengthening empathy. However, all these mechanisms fail in the absence of political will.
For more information: https://www.p-crc.org/our-team/founders/velma-saric/