Stories Courts Tell: The Problematic History of the Yugoslav Tribunal in Bosnia and Herzegovina
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- May 2017
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In 1993, the United Nations Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the first of a number of contemporary international and hybrid tribunals that have been established since the 1990s. The proliferation of these courts has largely been driven by their potential to contribute to transitional justice, or the process of transitioning from war to peace by addressing the legacy of violence through accountability. The founders of the Yugoslav Tribunal believed that the court would positively impact peace and reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In this thesis, I argue that the Yugoslav Tribunal has not positively impacted Bosnia and Herzegovina because the Tribunal operated as if the court was part of a domestic judicial system, rather than a transitional justice process. Many among the Tribunal’s staff and supports believed that the purpose of international courts was simply to try alleged criminals; therefore, they thought that the Yugoslav Tribunal should simply duplicate the structures and goals of domestic courts.
I argue that transitional justice trials are not like domestic trials: they are pedagogical tools that can be used to support or craft a collective narrative about the past. Through the drama of a trial, these types of courts contribute to society’s understanding of history. Because the Yugoslav Tribunal largely operated as if it were a domestic court on a global scale, it did not prioritize communicating its findings or crafting a narrative for the public. Therefore, the Yugoslav Tribunal has been used by other actors within Bosnia and Herzegovina to reinforce their own entrenched narratives.
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