By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A U.N. war crimes courtroom in which a Bosnian Serb general was prosecuted for atrocities committed during the siege of Sarajevo has been moved to the Bosnian capital to preserve the legacy of the first attempt to hold war criminals to account since World War Two.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which closed down last year after prosecuting 161 suspects for crimes committed during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, had agreed to move the original courtroom and archives to Sarajevo, where 11,000 people were killed during the siege.
“Sarajevo is the first city after Nuremberg which has the original courtroom of an international criminal tribunal and … a possibility to witness its mandate,” said Mila Eminovic, the head of the ICTY Information Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The aim is to establish similar centres in Serbia and Croatia.
When the ICTY was set up in 1993 it was the first serious attempt to hold war criminals responsible for their actions since the Nuremberg trials after World War Two.
The court’s architects hoped that establishing what happened during the war and punishing its worst offenders would help reconcile Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims.
However, divisions remain in the Balkans, where the court had aimed to bring reconciliation, but convicted war criminals are often revered as heroes.
The ICTY courtroom 2, which displays the original furniture and robes of the judge and prosecutor, was where Bosnian Serb General Dragomir Milosevic was sentenced to 29 years in prison over his role in the Sarajevo siege.
A conference room with computers and TV screen provides access to millions of the court’s documents and thousands of hours of video material from the trials.
“Access to this unique database is very important in confronting the culture of denial of the crimes,” said Almir Alic, Bosnia’s representative to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which succeeded the ICTY.
Nejra Lilic, a 22-year-old student, said her visit to the centre was a very emotional one since she had lost all her male relatives in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide.
“Young people are not interested in the past because they equate it to the conflict, and by avoiding the topic of the past they think they can avoid conflict,” she said.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Louise Heavens)