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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Whitney Taylor on Public Opinion and Transitional Justice in Serbia

mladic.jpgOn March 14, the Human Rights Program student assistant, Whitney Taylor, presented her research at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies' Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence workshop. In her talk, Whitney discussed the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), examining the official operations of the tribunal and analyzing public opinion surrounding the court's legitimacy and effectiveness. She found that public opinion of the ICTY was drastically lower in Serbia than in either Bosnia or Croatia, and through her research strove to unearth reasons explaining why.

First, examining the actual operations of the tribunal, Whitney found that the court had undertaken several measures to ensure the impartiality of its sentencing. The court strove largely met international fair trial standards relating to charges, evidence, due process rights, sentencing, and evenhandedness, and although its performance left room for improvement, there was no correlation between ethnicity and sentencing. Despite this, Whitney found that negative public opinion in Serbia was largely founded on the assumption that the court had unjustly targeted Serbs in its punitive measures and in sentencing.
In her research, Whitney pursued the causes of such negative opinion in Serbia, considering the role of the media, society's general lack of trust for information on the ICTY, and the quality of information being spread through human rights organizations and through the efforts of the tribunal itself. Whitney found that a lack of information on the ICTY was not the cause of negative perception in Serbian society, but proposed instead that several barriers existed that obstructed an accurate translation of court proceedings to the Serbian public. These barriers included the juridical logic behind sentences and the physical distance of the tribunal from the societies it hoped to affect. Whitney suggests that these obstacles were then exaggerated by beliefs entrenched in Serbian national identity and by already held political-historical perceptions, which amplified Serbians' negative feelings toward the legitimacy of the ICTY. A lively discussion followed the presentation, as many distinguished faculty in the human rights field offered insightful feedback and praise on Whitney's research, and posed thoughtful questions.
Written by Anna Meteyer.
Image source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide.