Sunday, April 18, 2010

International Tribunals / Genocide on Film

Justice and Therapy in Yugoslav War-Crimes Trials
By Charles Crawford
RFE/RL dispatch, April 18, 2010
"I recently attended a London presentation of the film 'Storm' which centers on the unlikely theme of a war-crimes trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Directed by Hans-Christian Schmid, 'Storm' stars Kerry Fox as a feisty, but pedantic ICTY prosecutor and Anamaria Marinca as a key Bosniak victim of wartime rape in 1990s Bosnia-Herzegovina. (The trailer for the film is available here) In the film, the case against a Bosnian Serb military officer wobbles when a key Bosniak witness is shown to have lied. The prosecutor struggles to keep the case alive and finds a new, deeper horror: a hotel where systematic rapes of Bosniak women prisoners by Bosnian Serbs were carried out. But how to bring to the courtroom credible evidence of what happened? Will a victim who survived the ordeal testify so many years later? The film is being marketed as a 'thriller.' While it is not scary or even dramatic, the Bosnian scenes convey bleak black menace, all the more effective for being understated. The plot turns on ICTY procedural maneuvers. The court is under pressure to end overly long trials. A senior EU official (the prosecutor's lover) leads the intrigue aimed at ending the trial (in effect, abandoning justice in general and Bosnia's war-crimes victims in particular) for the sake of achieving the cooperation of Republika Srpska (the ethnic Sebian entity of the Bosnian federation) in expediting Bosnia's progress toward EU membership. As a dramatic device this gives the viewer a subtle and interesting (if pessimistic) movie experience. The court scenes and technical insights bring out some legal and procedural themes not obvious to the general public.
The film culminates with a murky plea-bargain deal to end the proceedings without the new evidence being presented. The accused Serb is sentenced only to time served. The prosecutor and Bosniak woman victim alike are betrayed, on several painful levels simultaneously. After the screening I joined a panel chaired by a colleague from Amnesty International.  Two women panelists familiar with the difficulties faced by women victims of rape and other abuses in Bosnia (on all sides) focused on what more needed to be done to support women war-crimes victims. They argued that nearly 15 years after the Bosnia conflict ended many victims lacked even simple recognition for what had happened to them, let alone a sense that justice might be done. The Yugoslavia conflicts had led to trail-blazing legal and policy work for victims, but much more was still needed. I raised policy and procedural questions arising from war-crimes trials in the former Yugoslavia. I pointed to the startling cost of the ICTY -- now approaching $2 billion since it was set up. It’s an expensive way to indict only 161 people. [...]"

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