There is increasing debate within the former Yugoslavia regarding the possible creation of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC). The RECOM coalition, formed in 2008, is committed to the idea of a regional TRC. This article, however, argues that a regional approach to truth-seeking is premature at this stage and thus focuses on the national level—and specifically on Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The article’s twofold objective is to explore whether BiH needs a TRC and, if so, what this TRC should look like. This is an empirical article that draws upon the author’s fieldwork at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in BiH and in South Africa.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is due to finish its work in 2014, and hence this is an important time to reflect on its legacy. This article is concerned with the Tribunal’s micro legacy and its impact on the ground. While existing research on impact has tended to overwhelmingly centre on Bosnia–Herzegovina (BiH), this article shifts the focus to Croatia and looks specifically at whether and to what extent the ICTY has aided reconciliation between Serbs and Croats in the town of Vukovar. Based on fieldwork in Vukovar, the research uses three key measurement criteria to assess the Tribunal’s impact on reconciliation — perceptions of the ICTY, acknowledgement of its judgments and the nature of inter-ethnic relations on the ground. Defining reconciliation as the repair and restoration of relationships and the re-building of trust, it argues that the ICTY has not contributed to reconciliation in Vukovar. Yet since the reasons for this are case study- and institution-specific, this research does not permit the conclusion that criminal trials can never aid reconciliation. What it highlights, however, is that retributive justice should not be over-relied upon to aid reconciliation.
While post-conflict peace-building is a much-researched topic, the potential of religious actors to contribute to the process remains underexplored. This article examines this neglected dimension of peace-building through a particular focus on South Africa and its Christian churches. Emphasizing the ‘ambivalence of the sacred’, it contrasts the negative role that many churches played during the apartheid years with some of the very valuable peace-building work that is taking place today—particularly the empowering of communities, the development of antiviolence strategies and psycho-social healing. Arguing, however, that much of this work is often undertaken in a very compartmentalized way, it advocates a more holistic approach to peace-building that reaches across racial and class divides. It also emphasizes that for religious peace-building to achieve its full potential, South African society must address pervasive structural violence; there can be no reconciliation in the face of massive economic injustice and inequality. This research is based on 6 weeks of fieldwork in South Africa and semistructured interviews with various religious actors.
Situated in the far northeastern corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brcko District is widely heralded as a successful multi-ethnic society. Such portrayals are typically “top down” and centred on institutions, yet it cannot be assumed that multi-ethnicity at the institutional level necessarily translates into everyday relations between Brcko’s ethnic groups. Based on qualitative interview data, this article explores Brcko from the “bottom up”, through a focus on inter-ethnic relations in everyday life. Its central argument is that viewing Brcko through this additional lens not only raises important questions about the District’s image as a success story but also, and more broadly, has significant implications in highlighting the limitations of liberal peacebuilding and the importance of “peacebuilding from below”.
Notwithstanding the recent proliferation of war crimes tribunals, a fundamental question remains: whether the confidence that such institutions have generated among their supporters is, in fact, justified. Using the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as a case study, this article empirically explores four reputed merits of criminal trials — that they dissipate calls for revenge, individualize guilt, establish a historical record and contribute to reconciliation. It demonstrates that each of these claims, with the possible exception of the first, is problematic, which, in turn, highlights the limits of retributive justice. Hence, the article advocates the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Bosnia to complement the ICTY’s work. It also maintains that our expectations of war crimes tribunals need to be more realistic, in view of the obstacles and challenges that they face, and that their mandates should be more specifically tailored to the particular circumstances in which they are operating.
This article, which is grounded in qualitative interview data, takes as its starting point the contention that war crimes tribunals can aid reconciliation, and more specifically the claim made by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that its work is contributing to reconciliation in the region. Focusing on Bosnia and Hercegovina (BiH), the first question that it seeks to answer is not whether the ICTY has positively impacted on reconciliation, but rather the more immediate question of whether reconciliation actually exists in BiH. Defining reconciliation as the restoration and repair of relationships and as the acknowledgement of war crimes and responsibility, it argues that there is no reconciliation in present-day BiH. There is only negative peace an absence of conflict. The second crucial question that this article explores, therefore, is whether and how this negative peace can be developed into positive peace characterized by reconciliation. Emphasizing two critical obstacles to any reconciliation process in BiH, namely insufficient contact between interethnic groups and the existence of denial and competing truths, it identifies three important measures to address these. These are the abolition of the divisive ‘two schools under one roof’ education system, the replacement of the Dayton Peace Accords (DPA) with a constitutional structure that encourages interethnic contact rather than separation, and the creation of a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC). On the issue of whether the ICTY can itself contribute to reconciliation in BiH, the article concludes that while retributive justice is an important mechanism in postconflict societies, the difficulties and challenges that the ICTY faces in BiH underscore the limitations of criminal trials and the imperative of a multifaceted approach to reconciliation combining different transitional justice elements.