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

Platform for Balkans' Post-War Justice Debate

IWPR multi-media work in the region has sought to encourage society to address the legacy of the early Nineties’ conflicts.
By IWPR staff
  • Scene from Tales of Transition, a mini TV-series produced by IWPR.
    Scene from Tales of Transition, a mini TV-series produced by IWPR.

Merdijana Sadović

“Facing Justice is being broadcast on more than 100 radio stations throughout the region and it’s repeatedly been praised for its unbiased and professional approach to sensitive subjects such as war crimes and transitional justice.”
Merdijana Sadović
IWPR’s ICTY programme manager

Velma Šarić

"Court reporting particularly helped to strengthen my objectivity, in terms of learning to separate the facts from the emotions, since what I learned was to take a sort of outsider’s look into these court cases."
Velma Šarić,
IWPR-trained journalist

Aleksandar Roknic

"In IWPR articles, I have tried to go deeply into the problems of the former Yugoslavia, and to face the war crimes of the past."
Aleksandar Roknić,
IWPR-trained journalist

Rachel Irwin

"Covering the tribunal has made me think a lot about how people deal with the past and what the term ‘justice’ actually means."
Rachel Irwin,
International Justice reporter

It has been 15 years since the conflict in the Western Balkans officially ended, but IWPR continues to produce a range of reports – in print, radio and television – which highlight important transitional justice issues both in the region and at the tribunal in The Hague.

IWPR began covering the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in 1996, producing courtside reports, opinion pieces and in depth analytical articles. In 2007, IWPR launched a companion radio show, Facing Justice, in cooperation with Radio Free Europe, RFE.

“When we began broadcasting it, we had an audience of around 1 million people in the former Yugoslavia,” said Merdijana Sadovic, IWPR’s ICTY programme manager.

“Today, that number is over two million. Facing Justice is being broadcast on more than 100 radio stations throughout the region and it’s repeatedly been praised for its unbiased and professional approach to sensitive subjects such as war crimes and transitional justice.”

The success of Facing Justice inspired the programme staff to expand into television, and in 2010 IWPR launched a series of short documentaries on transitional justice, which were rebroadcast on RFE’s television station, TV Liberty, Bosnian state TV and 30 local TV stations throughout Bosnia.

This summer, IWPR will start producing another 20 video documentaries on transitional justice and human rights, which will be broadcast widely in Bosnia.

Selected reports will also be screened in 20 schools in Bosnia and Serbia, followed by discussions on related issues.

In addition to these activities, in 2010 IWPR began a multimedia journalism training for 15 young Bosnian reporters and aspiring journalists who want to specialise in reporting on transitional justice issues. This project, called Tales of Transition, will last until November this year and is being carried out in cooperation with IWPR’s local partners.

Programme manager Sadovic said training these young journalists to report in accordance with IWPR’s high professional standards has been an especially rewarding experience.

“Seeing that after the training they continued to apply these standards in the media outlets they work for is extremely satisfying, because it means we did our job well,” she said.

IWPR, however, has always endeavored to train local journalists as part of its regular activities.

One of these reporters, Sarajevo-based Velma Saric, has been writing courtside reports and related features for IWPR since 2008.

She said that the experience has helped her gain a “much deeper and more objective insight into a part of recent history which has shaped not just the society I live and work in, but also my own personal life”.

“Court reporting particularly helped to strengthen my objectivity, in terms of learning to separate the facts from the emotions, since what I learned was to take a sort of outsider’s look into these court cases,” Saric said. “I think that seeing everyone individually and objectively – perpetrators and victims alike – was what pushed my own internal reconciliation most, and this is part of what I gained from writing about trials at the ICTY.”

Belgrade-based Aleksandar Roknic, an IWPR-trained reporter who has been contributing articles for many years now, said that the experience has given him the opportunity to “talk with victims of war crimes from the former Yugoslavia, and to feel and see their perspective of the conflict”.

“In IWPR articles, I have tried to go deeply into the problems of the former Yugoslavia, and to face the war crimes of the past,” he said.

In Roknic’s opinion, the articles have been “very influential” because they are republished by many media outlets throughout the region.

Saric said she was particularly pleased with a special report she wrote with IWPR’s Hague reporter Rachel Irwin, entitled “Calls for War Memorials Divide Bosnia”, published in December 2010.

The report detailed how victims of wartime atrocities are not allowed to build memorials in places where they are the ethnic minority, and how this is tied to the prevailing denial that these crimes happened at all.

“It was very fulfilling to have worked on the memorials report because what it did was to show victims not in the light of crimes committed against them, but in the light of building a future strengthened by the role of historic memory,” Saric said.

Irwin, who is IWPR’s international justice reporter in The Hague, is also proud of the report.

“It demonstrates what happens when there are dueling narratives of a conflict and how this can prevent people from really dealing with the past, and being able to move forward again,” Irwin said.

The report was republished in various media outlets throughout the region and was also the subject of a round-table discussion in Sarajevo, which was attended by victims’ associations, governmental bodies, and NGOs.

“Representatives of the Bosnian government who read our report said it contributed greatly to their efforts to find a permanent solution to the problem of building memorials,” Sadovic, the programme manager, said.

Scholars working on post-conflict issues in other parts of the world also found the report extremely useful, Saric added.

“I remember how an Australian scholar living and working in Cambodia told me – after having read the piece on memorials – how intrinsically similar justice and reconciliation are throughout the world,” Saric said.

“The people in Cambodia have suffered in a different way than those in our region, but this scholar told me that she could simply swap in Cambodian names for the Bosnian names and get more or less the same story – and this was very, very interesting.”

In addition, IWPR’s weekly trial reporting is often singled out by lawyers, NGOs and victims’ group for being extremely thorough and unbiased. IWPR is also one of the only organisations to have filed weekly reports on the Radovan Karadzic trial since it began in late 2009, and also provided extensive coverage on the recent arrest of Ratko Mladic.

“Right after Mladic was arrested, we published a piece examining whether or not his trial could be joined with Karadzic’s,” Irwin said. “I was proud of this piece because it dealt with a question that came up constantly in the weeks following the arrest, and we wrote about it before almost anyone else, and in a very comprehensive way.”

Irwin said that covering the tribunal in such an in-depth manner has been important to her in other ways as well.

“Covering the tribunal has made me think a lot about how people deal with the past and what the term ‘justice’ actually means,” she said. “It is still a question I grapple with on a daily basis, but I’ve come to believe that justice is not only about seeking and presenting the truth, but about acknowledging how those truths – which are often unthinkably cruel - have affected human beings.”

International Justice - ICTY programme

If you would like to find out more please contact programme manager Merdijana Sadović.

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