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Rating the Slobo Show:
Is the ICTY's Leading Case Advancing Justice?

February 05, 2003 // 11:00am12:00pm

Staff-prepared summary of the East European Studies discussion with Eric Gordy, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Clark University, MA and a Title-VIII JSTS Alumnus.

Professor Gordy prefaced his talk by emphasizing that the Hague War Crimes Tribunal (ICTY) is a necessary forum for projecting individual, not collective, responsibility for crimes committed in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. Key here is the emphasis on "command responsibility" as established in the war crimes trials in Japan after WWII, as opposed to guilt, per se. But, he stressed that the manner in which the trial of Slobodan Milosevic has been conducted – open trial covered by TV beamed directly back to the region – has undermined the effectiveness and legitimacy of the ICTY in three key areas: the perceived legitimacy of the tribunal in Serbia, its use as a political instrument, and the weight of international humanitarian law. He criticized the court's modus operandi with a clearly hostile and inflexible chief prosecutor and cited the unresolved tension in the former Yugoslavia (FRY) concerning the way in which the trial has been used – to achieve legal purposes vs. for publicity. Regardless of the proceedings and based on the situation up to this point, Gordy concluded that that Milosevic's trial is certain to end with his conviction, which Gordy believes is a good thing.

Dr. Gordy criticized the ICTY for its failure to convey the purpose of the trial to people in the region. Many Serbs believe that Milosevic is being tried for starting the war, not for crimes against humanity. And ironically, through the airing of the trial on TV throughout the region, Milosevic has been in the public eye far more than when he was the autocratic yet reclusive ruler of the FRY from 1987-2000. Serbs also perceive the trial to be one of "victor's justice by proxy." Public opinion will undoubtedly affect the long-term processes of reconciliation and reform, yet such varying interpretations serve to undermine the credibility of the ICTY and limit its efficacy. 60-65% of Serbs view the ICTY as illegitimate, though most believe that Milosevic is guilty of something. Nonetheless, Milosevic's conviction in the Hague will be viewed by many in the region as a declaration of collective, rather than individual, guilt, which was not the original intention of the court.

Contrary to the claims of its proponents, Gordy does not view the ICTY as an effective venue to foster the process of peace, trust and reconciliation in the region. He argued that the international legal arena is not the best place to engender regional attempts of reconciliation. Instead, though he admitted that the local judicial systems need extensive judicial reform and training, Gordy posited that participation of domestic courts in trying war criminals, as well as the gradual improvement of bilateral economic and political relationships, will eventually facilitate regional reconciliation.

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