International Justice and Bosnia-Herzegovina

July 19, 2007 by  


By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–This article based on Isabelle Delpa’s research. She is trained as a philosopher, but her comments were more anthropologic.

The Kosovo question of independence has come up again in the mainstream news. The EU, the U.N. and the United States are demanding it, but Serbia, of which Kosovo is nominally a Province, is resisting. When George W. Bush stopped in Albania, whose population are the Kosovars’ brothers, were the only country that gave the American President an overwhelming reception, for the residents of Pristina’s “Province” are Albanian Muslims, as well.

Nowhere did Islam suffer persecution more than in the Former Yugoslavia than in Bosnia. Kosovo suffered greatly, too, but to understand why Province wishes independence, one must comprehend the intensity of Sarajevo’s experience, for as a non-ethnic province of Serbia, the persecution could begin again against the Kosovars within Serbia itself.

In Delpha’s fieldwork (this is why I say Isabelle’s presentation was anthropologic), the terrain (topos) was held commonly between the various ethnic groups within Bosnia-Herzegovina.

International justice is of two types either administered at the Hague or the local strata. There is an organization that manages justice for the Southern Balkans. It is commonly known by its acronym ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia). The ICTY (http://www.un.org/icty/) administration of justice was evaluated by the divergent morals and politics of the citizenry of the Post-Communist State.

The Human Rights Court is located in Sarajevo, the capital of the new State and the capital of a previous Province of the (Former) Yugoslavia. It must be kept in mind that Yugoslavia was a Communist country. Therefore, it still had the political mentality of the past. Curiously, for most of the population, it was considered that a moral individual does not take an active part in the running of a (Communist) nation State. This resonates in the subconscious of most Muslims in similar countries.

The Bosniaks do not make relevant distinctions between regions and municipalities from the perspective of their Center. This has influenced the consequences for criminal responsibility, for seeking the truth and the concept of the value of life, and, thereby, the assessment of the sentences that were allotted. Also, the divisions between protected areas and those other districts during the War impacted the justice that followed. For the most part the people that included Muslims were against foreign intervention; i.e., the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO), which they perceived as merely international politics. Keep in mind the average Bosnian in the post- Socialist governments distrusted the political process.

The ICTY’s justice was not resented in Bosnia – especially Muslims who suffered through most of the atrocities. Those accused, though, preferred to be sent to the Hague. The average citizen, however, felt that justice should be applied throughout the whole of the Former Yugoslavia. Moreover, those NATO soldiers, who were suspected of War crimes, should be brought to trial in the region of their presumed infractions.

In addition, criminality and truth were determined at the municipal level by the testimony of the victims and the accused by the ICTY. Yet there was no attempt to balance the consistency or evenhandedness from one municipal court to another.

Against the myth, the large-scale violent loss of life was not historically accurate over the Mountains.

Unfortunately, these small-scale municipalities played a large role in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, besides. A considerable amount of Islamic refugees did return to their homes after the Wars although there was less Serbians, who were guilty of the majority of the War crimes, and, thus, feared reprisals. The first mass graves of Muslim men and boys were found in 1995. This made a sea change in the prosecution of Justice both at the International echelon (the Hague) and at the local plane (the municipalities). What was so frustrating to the Bosniaks was the shortness of the sentences.

Ordinary people gave the names to their municipalities for indictments. Yet, because of the experience from past violence of those criminals charged, many of those who had survived the camps and the woman who were raped were discouraged from coming forward out of fear.

Further, defense “witnesses” were brought in. Although there were significant differences amongst their “testimony,” the defense “eyewitnesses” held on as a heterogeneous group even though their descriptions of the truth differed, and individually they would disagree on justice itself! “Witnesses” came forward for various reasons. In a diverse culture (Bosnia is 40% Islamic), the concept of fairness is based within varied cultures and history within this geographical region of Herzegovina.

Justice is not an ideology; it is secular in modern societies of which Bosnia – despite its underdevelopment — is one unlike territories that are governed solely by Islamic law. Never underestimate local levels of justice, for they bring anthropological and psychological elements of the society together.

The plan of the International Community is to grant Kosovo limited liberation under the supervision of the U.N. underneath NATO’s protection. At the same time, NATO is losing patience while threatening to recommence the bombing of Serbia (which is not a threat to take seriously). Hopefully, when Islamic Kosovo will be free, there will be a period of truth and reconciliation, and the dilemma of fair indictments will be solved by that time.

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