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

International Justice/ICTY: Sept ‘09

Bosnian trainee talks about her work as an IWPR reporter covering war crimes trials in Sarajevo and The Hague.
By Velma Šarić

I felt a great sensation of pride on seeing my article on the sentencing of Bosnian Serb former army chief Milorad Trbic to 30 years in prison for genocide in September. The report was the culmination of all the energy and effort I had put into court reporting; of what it all means to me both personally and professionally; as well as a reflection of what I have learned.

Trbic’s recent trial at the Court of Bosnia and Hercegovina for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Bosniak men and boys played a particularly important role in my professional experience.

It was the first time I had the chance to experience a trial from almost beginning to end, in a live courtroom and in a local setting. It tested my abilities to be totally professional, fair, and balanced – even in the face of emotional accounts of suffering from the victims. But above all, it was an opportunity to learn, to expand my views and skills, increase my capacity of handling the immense amount of information and emotion, process it in an efficient, concise and clear way, and make it useful to others.

During my youth, Bosnia was the site of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II, including the genocide in Srebrenica. My hometown of Kladanj was the first breath of safety for thousands of refugees from eastern Bosnia, and we all – as a community – suddenly became part of the simultaneous pain and hope they were living through. It was already then that I knew that, in one way or another, I wanted to dedicate my life to researching, understanding and reporting on human rights and war crimes, on both the big picture and the individual stories that make up this puzzle.

In 2003, I graduated in political science at the University of Sarajevo, where I became interested in human rights and justice. I became a researcher at the university in crimes against humanity and international law. My work involved in discussing the experiences of survivors with genocide scholars and survivors from all over the world, which made my interest in the issue grow.

It was a very meaningful and important privilege to be offered the chance to report from the courtroom for IWPR. It brought experiences of the past and the lessons from dealing with them to a broad, international audience, making them accessible and putting them back in front of the media.

I reported on several different cases at the Hague tribunal, including that of former Serbian general Momcilo Perisic. Justice can only ever partially address victims' pain and suffering. It cannot bring the dead back to life, it cannot undo the rapes and the detention camps. But it can at least bring their stories out to the world.

Expecting a verdict can sometimes be as nerve-wracking to the victims as remembering the suffering they have been through. Just being in a room with them and feeling the emotion, expectation and, maybe, eventual disappointment with the passed sentence is a humbling and moving experience in its own right.

With the Trbic case, I have realised that my training and work with IWPR has given me the insight and professionalism to deal competently with very complicated issues and cases. It had made me grow – as a reporter, a researcher, an observer. That is why this work is not only important – it is very rewarding, too.

 

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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