Donna Harati

Donna Harati (Women in Black in Serbia): Donna spent the 2007 and 2008 summers working in Zambia with Project Concern International, and helping a peer mediation program for at risk youth in Zambian schools. Donna also taught English in Mauritius through Learning Enterprises. At the time of her fellowship, Donna was pursuing a degree in Cultural Politics with a focus on social justice from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. While at university, she also worked with incarcerated adults and court adjudicated youth through Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice. After her fellowship, Donna wrote: “I was faced with questions I did not know even existed. If my experience in Serbia taught me anything, it was that being complacent is simply not an option.”

Transitional Justice Summary

15 Jun

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the Special Court on War Crimes in Belgrade with WIB. As part of their approach to transitional justice, WIB takes an active role in monitoring cases. Before I post my impressions of the experience, I wanted to put up a little summary of transitional justice, specifically in the former Yugoslavian context.

The goals of transitional justice are:

-Confronting the criminal past

-Removing the members and supporters of criminal regimes from high public office (although they haven’t been completely removed anywhere, this is critical to the process of confronting the past)

-Exposing the ideological justification of crimes- dismantling the political, social, and cultural mechanisms conducive to war.

-Creating conditions for citizens to reject the cultural patterns, and models that produced war and war crimes.

-Enforcing and maintaining lawfulness.

-Establishing the rule of law and democracy

    The four pillars of transitional justice are tribunals and trials, truth and reconciliation commissions, reparations, and institutional reforms.

    WIB publishes a great 100 page summary short book entitled “Transitional Justice: A Feminist Approach”. My summary is mostly extracted from the book:


    The history of international justice institutions can arguably be traced back to the establishment of the permanent International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 1920, after the end of WWI, becoming the first international tribunal made up of permanent independent judges and authorized to address all international disputes. However, the USA protested against the prospect of this court trying German war criminals, so that process was ceded to the German judicial system.

    In 1945, the Nuremberg Trials were initiated by the Allied Forces, sentencing 22 top ranking military and civilian officers from Nazi Germany. I will not go into detail about these trials, but they are integral to transitional justice in that they prosecuted the following crimes:

    -Crimes Against Peace: planning, preparing, launching, and waging an aggressive war or a war that violates international covenants, agreements, and beliefs or participating in such a plan or conspiracy.

    -War Crimes: violations of the laws and customs of war, i.e. killing or deporting the population, killing prisoners of war, pillaging public property, destroying homes, and plundering

    -Crimes Against Humanity: killing, exterminating, deporting, or enslaving human beings; all forms of inhumane treatment; and prosecution based on religion, ethnic, or political grounds

      The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (or The Hague Tribunal or ICTY) was founded on May 25, 1993 through adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 827. According to the Resolution, The Hague Tribunal was founded with the objective of ‘ criminally prosecuting all individuals responsible for grave violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991.”

      Unlike the Nuremberg Trials, crimes against peace are not being prosecuted by the Hague Tribunal, an oft-cited criticism of ICTY, especially by activist groups (The Permanent People’s Tribunal, which is based out of Barcelona and does not have any legislative power but is established by civil society in hopes of creating an alternative legal system, also objected to the Hague Tribunal on these grounds). The Hague Tribunal has focused its activities on very high-ranking people and particularly infamous individuals responsible for crimes or other atrocities. So far, 161 individuals have been indicted for severe violations of international humanitarian law (94 cases have been concluded with 44 having a guilty verdict). Four individuals, including Slobodan Milosevic, have died in the detention unit of the Hague Tribunal.

      In July 2002, the Security Council adopted a strategy by which the Tribunal would concentrate on prosecuting top level political and military leaders. Consequently, the investigation and prosecution of a large number of perpetrators of very serious violations of international humanitarian law became the exclusive responsibility of national criminal justice systems of the Yugoslav successor states. In Serbia, this task is mainly executed by the Special Court on War Crimes.

      The Hague Tribunal is also notable in that it defined war rape as a war crime in its statute, the first time war rape has ever been defined in this way. The first conviction for rape as a war crime was pronounced in 2001 against three Serb men- the Foca case. The Hague Tribunal has planned to conclude its activities in 2010.

      I wondered before coming here why the former Yugoslavia has not had Truth and Reconciliation Commissions such as the famous and successful one in South Africa. It turns out that there was such a commission here. It was founded in March 2001 and concluded its activities in 2003. Many believe it was doomed from the start since it strove to consider events that had taken place throughout the 20th century, not just between 1991 and 1999. The Commission’s objective seems to have been to justify the policy of the Serbian regime. Because of this, the majority of its respectable members resigned shortly after its inception.

      Sorry for the length of this post. I know you could probably just go to wikipedia and look up transitional justice, but I wanted to present the information as WIB does. I will post my impressions of transitional justice in Serbia soon.

      Posted By Donna Harati

      Posted Jun 15th, 2009


      • anjum

        June 15, 2009


        i always misread transitional justice as transnational justice. thank you for the post donna! it is so strange to see the category of “war crimes” and the concept of violable and inviolable laws and customs of war.

      • Natalie

        June 21, 2009


        Way more clear than Wikipedia! Very helpful explanation of transitional justice and what it means for this part of the world.

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