Stop Censorship About War Crimes

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Stop Censorship About War Crimes is a campaign launched by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH). The aim of this campaign is to make trials fully accessible and to put an end to the withholding of information, particularly the anonymisation of names. In the words of the Editor of BIRN BiH, Erna Mackic, “We want to show that war crimes are always a matter of public interest".[1]

History[edit]

BIRN BiH is a non-governmental media organisation based in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It specialises in monitoring and reporting war crimes trials on both a state and local and cantonal level. Since its establishment, BIRN BiH has been actively analysing and informing the public about the work of the war crimes chambers at the state and local courts in BiH. Furthermore, one of BIRN BiH's missions is to support the development of high quality media and civil society in BiH. BIRN BiH is particularly concerned with dealing with the past which includes justice for the victims of war crimes committed during the 1992-95 war.

In March 2012, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina adopted a rulebook which stated that full names of those convicted of war crimes would be replaced with initials and that only the first 10 minutes of trials would be made public.[2] President of the Association “Women Victims of War”, Bakira Hasecic, explained that it was essential both for victims and society as a whole, to have full information about perpetrators available. Hasecic argues that it is “important for future generations to leave established facts about the crimes. We must speak openly about war crimes. If the victim wishes to testify publicly, why should the Court limit it and why can the public not hear it. The silence must be broken and victims should be encouraged to come forward. It is also important that the indictments are published, because when earlier indictments were published, a large number of victims came forward and testified”.[3]

As a response to the Court's decision on anonymisation, in June 2013, BIRN BiH launched the campaign ‘Stop Censorship About War Crimes’. The campaign called for a stop to the anonymisation of names of suspected war criminals on trial. Its aim was to have full names published in court documents and verdicts as well as full audio and video recordings of all hearings to be made public.[4]

According to Erna Mackic, BIRN BiH's Editor, "The openness of judicial institutions toward the public in the past few years has been diminished after the Bosnian prosecution decided to remove indictments from the public. The Bosnian Court adopted a rulebook which replaces the names of offenders, cities and institutions with initials". She explains that "audio and video recordings from trials are still issued but are just ten minutes in duration". She further comments that "in these circumstances the media is unable to objectively, fully and precisely inform the public about war crimes, organised crime, terrorism and other criminal matters".[5]

Achievements[edit]

The campaign managed to get thousands of signatures from people who signed a petition against the practice of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina of withholding information from war crimes trials.[6] A lot of support was also gained through the campaign's Facebook page 'Stop Censorship About War Crimes'. Mackic explains that "Through collecting signatures, BIRN wishes to prove there is a significant public interest and that citizens do not support the withholding of information about the identities of indicted persons and the recordings of hearings".[7]

Furthermore, BIRN BiH released a short video with celebrities showing their support for the campaign by emphasising the importance of information, such as names of suspected and convicted war criminals, being made public.[8]

The campaign proved to be a success as in June 2014, the Court of BiH revised its rulebook and eliminated the anonymisation of names. However, the issue of full audio and video recordings has not changed as of yet.[9]

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