Yesterday we had the honor of meeting the outreach director for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). A dynamic and fascinating man, he works throughout the region teaching youth about the purpose of the court and the role of justice as the region moves forward. We have heard time and time again about the contentious narratives in groups across Bosnia–the denial of the genocide, the finger pointing and dismissal of proven facts. We’ve heard about lines being drawn and the intense segregation that has become life here. The ICTY is a forum where the victims now have the opportunity to tell their stories and speak the truth. It is an institution that aims to hold the actors of these egregious human rights violations accountable and educate communities about the darkest days of the human story to prevent them from reoccurring.
I felt so encouraged when the director told us about his work speaking in front of schools; and though he is often dismissed or called a liar outright, he is planting seeds. He is spreading the truth, and he vowed to do so even if his formal role ends. He spoke about the fundamental principle of the ICTY–to hold individuals accountable, not collective guilt–and how he reiterates this in communities throughout Bosnia. This is a fundamental principle in teaching tolerance, the key to avoid demonization of a whole group. This is an important lesson we should be teaching in the United States! He told us about an organization that is bringing together students from all ethnic backgrounds. The organization is bridging communities and giving youth a point of reference. Youth are able to learn each others’ stories, and names. They can see that they have far more in common than the stories would like them to think. As I reflect on our meeting and the recent horror that is rocking our community back home, I can only think how now, maybe more than ever, we must teach tolerance. We cannot demonized the collective and we must bridge communities. When we know the other is it so much harder to hate them.