Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

ICC Awareness Gathering in the Balkans

By Katy Glassborow in Dubrovnik (TU No 486, 26-Jan-07)
The Belgrade-based Youth Initiative for Human Rights, YIHR, is hosting a training seminar this weekend for young lawyers, representatives of judicial institutions, and journalists from the Balkans to talk about the evolution, and purpose, of the Hague-based International Criminal Court, ICC.

The idea for the conference came from the Balkans Coalition of the ICC, a group of NGOs which decided to work with government officials, law students and journalists to spread knowledge about the court.

Over 50 participants have gathered in Dubrovnik, Croatia, for the three-day conference to promote discussion about the ICC, which the YIHR feels is important for the prevention of future conflict.

Present are representatives from Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia, plus speakers from the ICC and international human rights organisations.

Goran Miletic from the Swedish Helsinki Committee, an NGO which has co-organised the event, said that “very few people from the Balkans know about the ICC, so we need to let journalists and local lawyers know about why the court is important”.

He said that it is symbolic that the conference is being hosted in Dubrovnik, a city which was targeted by the Yugoslav army in 1991, during the war in Croatia.

“You cannot imagine anyone could bomb this city today,” said Miletic, adding that before the war, “we thought it was impossible for conflict to break out here”.

After the Balkan wars, there was discussion about what war crimes are and what terms such as genocide mean, as there were “no parameters for these crimes and terms in local courts”, said Miletic.

This has left many in the Balkans with a feeling that they cannot foresee where conflict is going to occur, which is why the YIHR feel it is important to have the Rome Statute - which underpins the workings of the ICC - implemented into local legislation.

Miletic said it is important, at this stage, to train local journalists about what the court is capable of because “these young people are future decision makers, and they can go away from here and organise other trainings”.

He also stressed that even though the court is currently focused on conflicts in Africa, potential conflicts could be close to home, and countries such as Moldova, Russia and Belarus have not ratified the Rome Statute, “which we feel is problematic”.

Miroslav Jankovic from the YIHR explained that there is a lack of education and information about the ICC in the Balkans, as there is not an ICC outreach programme. “Most people here are thinking about the ICTY, the primary court for this region,” he told IWPR.

Jankovic said that there are only a few people from the Balkans employed by the ICC, but “we want them to be involved in the process of development”.

As this region has a recent war past, Jankovic said that “we need to educate judicial institutions to implement the Rome Statute, and journalists who will work to spread the word in the Balkans”.

IWPR will also participate in the training of local journalists in Dubrovnik.

Katy Glassborow is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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