Silencing Hearings? Victim- Witnesses at War Crimes Trials

Dembour, Marie-Bénédicte and Haslam, Emily


European Journal of International Law


It is commonly accepted that war crimes trials should provide a space for victims to tell their stories. A close reading of the transcripts of victim-witnesses’ testimonies in the Krstic trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia suggests, however, that war crimes trials effectively silence, rather than hear, victims. In this particular trial, victim-witnesses predictably governed neither the agenda nor the pace of the hearings. More problematically, we argue that incongruously optimistic judicial remarks unnecessarily denied their suffering. On a different plane, victims’ testimonies were only vaguely connected to the person of the accused; they related to facts the relevance and proof of which are debatable. This article aims to generate a debate about victim-witnesses’ testimonies at war crimes trials. It seeks to identify both the demands that the legal process imposes on victim-witnesses and the tensions that arise out of their participation in it. In the light of the fact that legal proceedings cannot produce the definitive collective memory of the events with which they deal, the article finally stresses the need to foster a variety of collective memories outside the judicial platform.

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