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International Justice/ICTY: Mar ‘08

Reports on location of ICTY archives sparks discussion in leading international justice forum.
A series of reports on the future of the Hague tribunal archive, sparked debate in the legal community and prompted a written response from a Bosnian official.

The future of the archive of the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is a hot topic. There are many different opinions on where this immensely important archive – much of which is top secret – should be stored once the tribunal closes its doors in 2010.

However, in ICTY Archive Must be Open to All, which was published in Tribunal Update, University of Michigan history professor Robert Donia and Sarajevo-based commentator Edina Becirevic suggested that its future location is less important than ensuring that the public had sufficient access to it.

The piece prompted Bosnian liaison officer with the tribunal Amir Ahmic to write to the project, underlining the importance of the archive’s future location to those in the region.

In his letter, the official said he believed it important that the archive remained under United Nations protection.

“I believe that Bosnia should officially take over the tribunal’s archive, but only after a strict agreement is signed with the UN, which would ensure that the archive would be under UN jurisdiction and control,” he said.

“The UN would be obliged to help Bosnia and Herzegovina in establishing and building the centre where the archive would be stored and would also educate the local staff, while Bosnia would help in providing proper location, necessary permits and legal aid.”

Ahmic also agreed with Donia and Becirevic’s argument that the archive should be open to all.

“All necessary steps must be taken before the ICTY closes down to ensure that the archive is available in full [hard copies and electronic files] not only to investigators, prosecutors and judges in the region, but to the victims as well, so that they can use the documents to initiate civil procedures in order to get compensation for their sufferings during the wars in the Nineties,” said Ahmic.

However, he said there was only one suitable choice of location for its future home, “It is important that the original ICTY archive is placed in Sarajevo.”

On March 28, the project’s Belgrade-based IWPR-trained contributor Aleksandar Roknic wrote another article about a conference held the week before in Serbia’s capital, at which the future of the tribunal archive was debated.

The Belgrade Humanitarian Law Fund, FHP, which organised the event, said the only solution was to send copies of the archive – excluding protected documents – to all the former Yugoslav states.

Roknic’s piece, Future of Hague Archive Debated, prompted various reactions.

Those who commented on the article in the International Justice Watch Discussion List had their own suggestions on where these documents should be stored. The list is an online forum on the work of international war crimes courts and international humanitarian law, in which legal scholars and experts take part.

One forum participant said that “the archive should be transferred to Vienna, because the UN has a huge facility there”. He also pointed out that “access would still be quite easy from the region”.

Another believed that “whatever the archive's future location may be, an effort should be made to make it readily available over the internet”.

Another important development last month was the start of a cooperation arrangement with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, which is republishing Tribunal Update reports in its online weekly publication.

They’ve expressed a particular interest in the project’s analytical reports as well as its coverage of the Hague trial of Serbian ultranationalist leader Vojislav Seselj.

This republication means that project output will now reach a wider audience in Serbia.

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