What an AWESOME opportunity visiting the Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) war crimes court. This activity was very formal and security protocol to enter the compound was very stringent. The court has been fulfilling the mission of prosecuting was crimes perpetrated by all three factions that participated in the 1992 to 1995 war. The court has a very full docket even twenty years after the war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace treaty.
We had a one hour period of time slotted for us in the courts schedule. We were seated promptly and with purpose in the seats facing the bench. The bench is set up for a panel of three judge. When you sit down there is a monitor set slightly to the side of you, a microphone, and a small control box in front of you.
The Judge entered and gave a brief description of the court and opened the floor for questions. This was an experience I will never forget. I was very pleased with the level of inquisitive, content relevant questions my fellow students presented for the judge to answer. She discussed her personal strategy for coping with all of the horrific content she is presented with daily. How she had to work at the court in Sarajevo while the city was under siege. She also discussed the diversity ethnic balance of the court. The court is composed of Judges of all of the members of all of the ethnic groups in numbers which accurately reflect the population of BiH. The process for the selection of new Judges takes this balance in to consideration to try to achieve a highest level of integrity of their rulings.
She provided so much information it was impossible for me to absorb all of the details and statistics which were presented. The work they do must take a great personal toll. My biggest take away from her sharing was her opinion that if the other parts of the government functioned, as she believes the court does, with a focus on doing what is just and right for the whole of the country, the functionality of the state would be much better than it is presently. She related the War Crimes Court as functioning much like pre-war Yugoslavia. When she shared this perspective it was certain she missed that sense of national unity of that era of this lands storied history. A unity many who have shared their experiences with us still long for deeply to this very day.
The second half of the hour the victim preparation liaison addressed us from the bench. She spoke of her team of psychologists and social workers who work with witnesses to insure they are emotional prepared to deliver testimony about the crimes they endured. The second part of their duty is to support them following the trial. Their work they do provides a much needed service that insures witnesses remain willing to present testimony. Their case load per advocate appear to be very demanding. There are 600+ cases remaining to be prosecuted by the court and the team is comprised of eight members. There are four psychologists, one social worker, and three interns.
This was a very educational event and one I am privileged to have experienced. It illustrated social justice processes in action at the highest level. The case management, clinical support, and advocacy the social worker plays in the court setting. Communicating with the Judge via the interpreter in my head set was pretty cool too!