What struck me most about the war crimes court is the way in which its day-to-day operations are run so smoothly. Judges, lawyers, administrators, and other staff – dozens of individuals – punch in and punch out in order to keep on schedule the flow of the currently 38 ongoing trials that court is seeing. With 192 cases prosecuted and another 345 on the docket, there is obviously much work ongoing and much yet to be done.
This smooth operation is the result of a certain necessity, and it is this necessity that shocked me the most about being at the war crimes court yesterday. The necessity faced by Bosnia and Herzegovina is that of a country that is still, after 20 years, going through the process of grieving the thousands of individuals who were killed between 1992 and 1996. The necessity of a court and prison dedicated almost exclusively to war crimes and crimes against humanity is not unprecedented in history, but the execution such as it is here in Sarajevo certainly is.
My mind fails to fully comprehend what is must take for a country to undertake such a drastic judicial measure. Is it what happened here two decades ago? Is it what happened in Rwanda? In Germany? Albania? In the United States? When those in power in a country are, themselves, the perpetrators, who will hold them accountable? Some would say the international community, but it is clear that this is rather idealistic. The international community essentially allowed what happened here (and in all of the aforementioned countries) to take place, so how can they/we be relied upon to provide any semblance of justice?
Bosnia, through the war crimes court in Sarajevo (as well as the United Nations through the ICTY at The Hague), has made great strides in trying to hold accountable those who are the perpetrators of war crimes and genocide in Srebrenica and throughout BiH. It is an uphill battle, but it is at least a step in the right direction. Seeing a country empowered to work towards justice for its own citizens is inspiring, especially in light of the denial that is commonplace both here and across the world when genocide occurs. Though I am baffled and saddened by the necessity for such a specialized legal system, BiH can be an example to the rest of the world for how to handle war criminals and violators of human rights when the necessity for such a system inevitably arises again in the future.