Reflections on the War Crimes Court

We pulled up to the war crimes court in a cab full of anxious anticipation. After a morning of frantically changing and trading clothes to ensure we all were modest enough to be admitted it would be extremely disappointing to be turned away. Surprisingly to Ann we got in without a single problem and were on our way to an actual court room used to try indicted war criminals of the Bosnian war in the 1990s- what we have been studying and learning about these past ten days and all Spring Quarter.
All in all, it was a sobering experience. We met with one of the judges that oversees these cases and she explained to us the complexities that surround them. These cases are being tried by Bosnian courts because the sheer number of them would overwhelm the International Court of Justice in The Hague, The Netherlands. Sentencing is somewhat of a nightmare because defendants and prosecutors disagree on which laws to abide to- the former Yugoslavia’s or those of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was shocked to learn that some of these war criminals received a sentence of only five years in prison! That is shorter than some sentences for a lower-level drug charge in the United States. We then spoke with the director of psychological support for witnesses that testify in these trials. Shockingly she reported that Bosnia’s Department of Human Services was grossly underfunded and understaffed and the psychologists and social workers that work for her have alarmingly high caseloads. That sounds vaguely familiar to our work in the USA…
This was a day of reflection and comparison for me. I couldn’t help but find the similarities and differences between Bosnia’s criminal justice system and that of the United States. Of course mental health services go by the wayside in public funding in times when it truly is needed the most. Perhaps it is because I am so used to the harsh penalties given in America or the fact that I have spent the last 10 days learning about the incomprehensible atrocities that occurred during that time I could not help but feel enraged and completely unsatisfied with the amount of time these criminals were sentenced to jail. When asked about this, Hassan and Saliha both responded that true justice can be found with God alone. I suppose if that is good enough for them, the survivors, then it must be good enough for me.


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