BIRN’s new database of adjudicated facts on the 1992-5 war in Bosnia is designed as an educational tool that will also counter revisionist narratives and genocide denial.

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BIRN Presents Database as Tool to Educate and Counter Revisionism

(L-R)Anisa Suceska, ICTY, Melisa Foric and Zijad Sehic, professors of history, Haris Rovcanin BIRN journalist and author of the database, and Nikola Vucic, N1 journalist and moderator participate in the panel discussion “Judicially established facts without a place in curricula”. Photo: BIRN/ Emina Dizdarevic.

BIRN presented a panel discussion on the topic, “No Room for Adjudicated Facts in School Curricula”, presenting part of its database of facts related to the 1992-5 siege of Sarajevo that has been established in or by verdicts of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

Besides besieged Sarajevo, other parts of the city that were under the control of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, including Grbavica, Vraca and Nedzarici, as well as Sarajevo municipalities Ilidza, Hadzici, Vogosca and Ilijas, have also been covered, to include places where civilians were held and killed, demolitions and pillaging of property, and other crimes committed in the areas of Pale and Sokolac. 

BIRN journalist Haris Rovcanin, who is working on creating the database, said Sarajevo and its surroundings were the first regions to be presented, symbolically, as that siege began 30 years ago, in April 1992. The term “siege”, he explained, is used in court verdicts and the fact that Sarajevo was under siege during the war represents one of the adjudicated facts. 

“We have created a database containing some of the fundamental court conclusions referring to the sniping and deliberate shelling campaigns and unselective and direct attacks targeting the civilian population, as well as the fact that no parts of the city were safe from shelling from positions held by the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army, as determined in verdicts, and that civilians were targeted while fetching water, walking in the city and using public transportation, especially trams,” Rovcanin said.

BIRN’s local director Denis Dzidic said the development of the multimedia database of court-established facts was of extreme importance for learning about the past and as a tool for countering revisionist narratives and denial of genocide and war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

“We are witnesses to the politicization of history in Bosnia, which has been particularly pronounced in politicians’ public appearances in the pre-election period, but also in school curricula,” he said. 

“Through the development of this database, we endeavour to counter-narratives that focus on divisions and denial, and develop a unique multimedia platform which can serve teachers, students and all those interested in adjudicated facts,” Dzidic said. 

Sniping and shelling incidents, as they are called in verdicts, for which it was determined with certainty that fire was opened from positions held by the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, have been singled out and processed for the purpose of the database. So was the shelling with the use of modified air bombs in 1995, which, as Hague tribunal chambers established, were not suitable for hitting concrete targets.

According to Rovcanin, one of the goals of this database is to gather in one place all the crimes established by the Hague tribunal’s verdicts, but not naming concrete perpetrators. This is because in some cases trial chambers determined that crimes were committed at a certain location but lacked evidence to link and sentence the person on trial to those specific crimes. 

Besides that, the goal of the database is to help future researchers, students and journalists find the basic information they need for their further work, but also to assist teachers and education ministries by supplying materials for school curricula and methodologies for teaching about the past war. 

Historian Melisa Foric who worked on the educational tool in this database as an external contractor of BIRN, said the database of facts will offer an option for a quick search, check and use of facts and historical sources, which are an integral part of the verdicts pronounced by the ICTY. 

“The model classes, which will be an integral part of the database, offer a possibility to analyse events in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 on the basis of parts of testimonies by victims described in ICTY verdicts, and encourage students to present their personal conclusions vis-à-vis the content of verdicts,” he said. 

“In particular, attention is drawn to the significance of personal testimonials made in the form of short videos to which school-age children are much more receptive in the process of understanding and learning,” Foric added. 

According to her, through a multi-perspective approach and original materials, the database should facilitate an easier determination of the chronology of the war, enabling a clearer perception of a causal link between certain events and the responsibility of individuals for those events, as established by ICTY verdicts. 

A senior human rights advisor in the Office of Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Agnes Picod, said this was very important for remembrance within Bosnia but also outside its borders, adding that education was the backbone of reconciliation. 

She said the principle of impartiality had been very important in the work of the ICTY. 

According to her, decisions rendered by ICTY and the International Court of Justice are based on evidence and witness testimonies, while convictions pertain to individuals. 

“Verdicts establish an individual, not collective, criminal responsibility. They are for convicting individuals. ICTY verdicts contribute to the truth establishing process and have an essential role … [though] 26 years after the end of the war certain individuals continue to deny, minimize and negate the adjudicated facts,” Picod said. 

Picod also said that education should be one of the pillars and paths through which reconciliation is spread. In her opinion, school curricula and textbooks lack impartiality, especially as regards conflict. 

“When they mention criminal offences, they do not mention them as crimes against humanity or genocide. Schools and educational systems should not be exposed to political agendas,” Picod said.  

Although the ICTY archive is available already, the platform of adjudicated facts offers an abbreviated and clear overview of the conclusions of ICTY verdicts to the broader public and teachers, as well as to creators of educational content related to topics about the 1992-95 war, enriched with original content that can be used in teaching, Foric said in conclusion. 

Anisa Suceska, of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, and history professor Zijad Sehic also addressed the panel discussion. 

By the end of the project, besides Sarajevo, the database will also contain facts on ten other regions, namely Eastern Herzegovina, Zenica Region, Central Bosnia, Doboj-Posavina Region, and Eastern Bosnia, Srebrenica, Herzegovina Region, Krajina and Bijeljina-Zvornik Region. 

The database is implemented with support of the UN Democracy Fund, UNDEF.

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