After Mladic’s Verdict: Six Lessons to Learn from Hague Trials

So if this is the moment when we can turn away from criminals and the damage they have left behind them, and toward the societies picking up the pieces, what are the lessons that can be learned from 28 years of keeping law on the front burner? Let me suggest a few, in the hope that other people can suggest some more.

Lesson 1: The search for truth is more than confirmation of facts

The UN war crimes court in The Hague. Photo: EPA PHOTO/ANP/ROBIN UTRECHT/LLN.

A lot of people turned to courts in the hope that they would tell the story of the violence that people suffered. And in many respects the courts did tell that story. Thanks to the Tribunal's researchers, we know more about the scope, scale, and details of atrocities that were committed in this conflict than in nearly any other conflict in history. And because the research was carried out in the context of criminal prosecution, we know a great deal about who was directly and indirectly responsible. The potential contributions of the archives of the prosecutors' office have really only begun to be explored.

There are also some things that we do not know, and that the Tribunal archive will not tell us. We do not understand well enough the broad set of conditions that made violence possible. We do not fully understand what violence meant for the communities that suffered it. And we have only questions about what the experience means.

It will take more than facts collected to answer specific questions about the guilt or innocence of indictees to fill these demands for understanding. The most obvious need is for dialogue, for the sharing, hearing, and recognition of experience, and for the exchange of experiences across the ethnic and national boundaries that the violence...

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