Open the Archives of the Yugoslavia Tribunal!


The establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993 was a milestone in the international community’s pursuit of global justice. While violence was raging in the former Yugoslav states of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, the UN Security Council made a commitment to punish those responsible for the atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict. Today, twenty-two years after its founding, it has completed 147 highly complex cases. Trials against four final high-profile suspects – including Bosnian Serb President Karadžić and Bosnian Serb Army General Mladić – are expected to be completed in the coming year. When the Tribunal closes its doors in 2017 its contribution to international justice will be undeniable.

The international prosecution of war criminals has relied on evidence found in official documents from political and military units, personal diaries and note books of the accused, meeting transcripts and witness statements. Further, the prosecution has made use of photographs, films, radio recordings and numerous other sources. All these unique materials are currently stored in the repository of the Tribunal’s Office of the Prosecutor. They form the key to understanding the dark pages of the region’s history that left over 100,000 people dead.

With the imminent closure of the Tribunal, it is essential that its guarantors commit to the development of this vast and unique collection of materials into a consolidated and easily accessible archive. There are three important reasons why this commitment should form a priority in the Tribunal’s completion strategy, all three related to the establishment of a historical record of the wars that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

First of all, the repository contains information that could help victims’ relatives find out what happened to their loved ones. While most victims of the wars have been identified and buried, many relatives still search for information on the exact circumstances under which deaths have occurred. They deserve to have access to the Tribunal’s sources that could provide the answers they need to cope with their losses. That archives can provide such support to survivors is proven by the German Holocaust archive in Bad Arolsen, which performs a similar function for Holocaust survivors. More than 70 years after the end of the Second World War, the archive still responds to thousands of requests from victim-relatives every year.

Secondly, the materials represent an unrivalled source to historians of the region’s violent past, who attempt to establish the causes of the crimes. Establishing a baseline of historical truth about the violence is essential to learn the lessons of the past and prevent recurrence in the future. But the scientific value of the materials goes far beyond the particular region where the crimes occurred. Social scientific research on mass violence has increased our understanding of armed conflict and is gives us vital insights into identifying the political, societal, cultural and psychological factors that lead to these atrocious crimes.

Finally, the creation of an accessible archive is a matter of integrity and fulfilling institutional promises. When the Dayton Agreement put a formal end to the war in November 1995, the Tribunal’s then President Antonio Cassese stated that “justice is an indispensable ingredient of the process of national reconciliation.” Indeed, while the Dayton agreement brought peace in the strictest terms – the end of military confrontation – war-torn societies require a long-term process of reconciliation and healing in order to create peace in a broader and more sustainable sense. Reconciliation is aided by the type of historical records created through the Tribunal’s proceedings, which prevents denial of the atrocities committed and provides counter-balance to any attempt at political manipulation of history. To live up to its commitment to long-term peace through reconciliation, it only makes sense that the Tribunal makes its records available to support this process. 

The records of the Tribunal thus carry major potential value to survivors of the wars, scientists concerned with understanding its causes and to the credibility of the Tribunal itself. In particular, the repository of the Prosecutor’s Office contains a vast amount of invaluable material, most of which has not even been fully utilized in the Tribunal’s many trials. To fulfill this potential, the repository needs to be structured into a full-fledged archive. Given that most of the materials have already been digitized, this should be a relatively straightforward and low-cost process. We fully respect the need to maintain confidentiality and are not seeking access to confidential items such as witness statements. Further, a rational mechanism must be developed to allow access to its sources, while respecting the confidentiality and sensitivity of documents. To do this successfully, the Tribunal will need to call in experts from existing archives that perform comparable functions, such as the aforementioned German Holocaust archive.

As the Tribunal prepares to close its doors and transfer its records to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals in the next year, there is urgency to these tasks, as employees with valuable knowledge of the repository's content are leaving the Tribunal. While a team of competent archivists is currently processing the archives, a well-articulated policy must still be developed to ensure the accessibility of the full archives for posterity. There is also a need to develop a user-friendly and powerful software interface to allow detailed and thorough searches of the electronic material. We recommend that the Tribunal call in experts from existing archives that perform comparable functions, such as the aforementioned German Holocaust archive. Further, we recommend the establishment of an external advisory committee made up of renowned archivists and ICTY research experts that would support the Tribunal in the development of its policies for the archive.

With the establishment of the Tribunal twenty two years ago the international community altered the course of history by making an unprecedented commitment to global justice. Now, it is time to make sure that the Tribunal’s legacy is preserved so that its history lives on.


List of Signatories:

  1. Dr. Saskia Baas, Lecturer, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  2. Prof. dr. Richard Ashby Wilson, Gladstein Chair of Human Rights, Professor of Law and Anthropology, University of Connecticut
  3. Dr. Christian Axboe Nielsen, Associate Professor, Aarhus University
  4. Tjitske Lingsma, Journalist, De Groene Amsterdammer
  5. Prof. dr. Peter Romijn, Senior Researcher, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD)
  6. Dr. Vladimir Petrovic, Senior Researcher, Institute for Contemporary History, Belgrade
  7. Prof. mr. Wouter Veraart, Professor of Legal Philosophy, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  8. Prof. Dr. Eric Ketelaar, Emeritus Professor of Archivistics, Universiteit van Amsterdam
  9. Prof. Stephan Parmentier, Professor of Sociology of Crime, Law and Human Rights, University of Leuven
  10. Prof. Dr. Antoine Buyse , Professor of Human Rights, Utrecht University Law School
  11. Prof Dr. Abram de Swaan, Queen Wilhelmina Professor, Columbia University New York
  12. Jan Pronk, Former Minister for International Development Cooperation, The Netherlands
  13. Dr. Robert Donia, Research Associate, Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, University of Michigan
  14. Prof. dr. William A. Schabas, Professor of International Law, Middlesex University
  15. András Riedlmayer, Bibliographer, Documentation Center for Islamic Architecture, Aga Khan Program, Harvard University
  16. Dr. Eric Gordy, Senior Lecturer in Southeast European Politics, University College London
  17. Dr. Lara J. Nettelfield, Lecturer in International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London
  18. Dr. Gerard Toal, Director, Government & International Affairs, Virginia Tech
  19. Dr. Sarah Wagner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, George Washington University
  20. Prof. dr. Tone Bringa, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen
  21. Peter W. Galbraith, U.S. Ambassador to Croatia (1994-1998)
  22. Prof. dr Mark A. Drumbl, Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and Director, Transnational Law Institute, Washington and Lee University
  23. Prof. Beth Van Schaack, Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights (2014-15) Stanford Law School
  24. Prof. Dr. Anthony Oberschall, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
  25. Dr. Leigh Swigart, Director of Programs in International Justice and Society, Brandeis University
  26. Prof. dr. Lawrence Douglas, James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence & Social Thought, Amherst College
  27. Richard de Boer, Journalist, de Volkskrant
  28. Dr. Sergey Vasiliev,  Assistant Professor of Public International Law, University of Leiden
  29. Marija Ristic, editor, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network
  30. Prof. dr. Steven R. Ratner, Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law, University of Michigan
  31. Dr. Saad Eskander, National Archivist, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Iraq
  32. Dr. Ana Ljubojevic, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Zagreb
  33. Wachira Waheire, Secretary/CEO, Centre for Memory and Development, Nairobi, Kenya
  34. Prof. Dr. R.M. Letschert, Director INTERVICT, Tilburg Law School
  35. Professor Dr. Samuel Moyn, Professor of Law and History, Harvard University
  36. Dr Marjorie Jobson, National Director, Khulumani Support Group, South Africa
  37. Dr. Rita Kesselring, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel
  38. Prof. dr Antoon De Baets, Professor of History, Ethics and Human Rights, University of Groningen
  39. Laura Boerhout, PhD candidate, Amsterdam School for Heritage and Memory Studies, University of Amsterdam
  40. Geert Luteijn MA, Research Master Student in History, University of Amsterdam
  41. Koen Kluessien MA, Research assistant, NIOD institute for War, Holocaust, and Genocide studies
  42. Prof. Dr. Dermot Groome, Visiting Professor of Law, Penn State, The Dickinson School of Law
  43. Prof. Barbara M. Oomen, Dean University College Roosevelt, Utrecht University
  44. Dr. Evelyne Schmid - Post Doctoral Researcher/Lecturer, University of Basel
  45. Dr. Joanna R. Quinn, Director, Centre for Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Western University
  46. Harvey M. Weinstein, MD, MPH, Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights Center, UC Berkley
  47. Dr. Victor Peskin, Associate Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, Arizona State University
  48. Dr. Barbora Hola, Assistant Professor International Crimes and Criminology, VU University Amsterdam
  49. Dr. Chiseche Mibenge, Director for Community Engaged Learning and Human Rights, Stanford University
  50. Dr. Maria O'Reilly, Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of London
  51.  Prof. Natalie Zemon Davis, Professor of History emeritus, Princeton University
  52. Prof.dr. D.F.J. Bosscher, prof. emeritus in Contemporary History, University of Groningen
  53. Prof. Peter Stansky, Frances and Charles Field Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University
  54.  Tomas Gonzalez Ruiz Rabago, Environmental Impact Assessment Evaluator, Instituto de Alcantarillados y Acueductos Nacionales, Panama
  55. Raul Quiñonez, Program Coordinator, Centro de Estudios Ambientales y Sociales Paraguay
  56. Dr.Victor Valembois, retired, Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR)
  57. Dr. Nico Randeraad, History Department, Maastricht University
  58. Prof. Herman Van Goethem, Law Faculty University of Antwerp & General Director Kazerne Dossin, Memorial and Museum on Holocaust and Human Rights, Mechelen
  59. Prof. Jill Stauffer, Associate Professor of Peace, Justice and Human Rights, Haverford College
  60. Drs. Marjan de Groot-Reuvekamp, Teacher in History,  Fontys Hogeschool Kind & Educatie
  61. Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Erdmann, prof. em. in History Didactics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
  62.  Prof. Francesco Benigno, University of Teramo, Italy
  63. Dr. Eddo Evink, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen
  64. Mr. Peter Gunther CA, Archivist, Progressive Archivists
  65. Refik Hodzic, Communications Director, International Center for Transitional Justice
  66. Dr. Susan Hogervorst, Assistant professor Historical culture, Open University
  67. Prof. Dr. Estevão de Rezende Martins, Professor of History and International Relations, University of Brasilia
  68. Prof. Riki Van Boeschoten, Emeritus Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Thessaly, Greece
  69. Dr. Sacha Zala, Universität Bern
  70. Professor Andre Augusto da Fonseca, teacher, Roraima State University, Brazil
  71. Kate Doyle, Senior analyst, National Security Archive
  72. Grace Lile, Director of Operations, WITNESS
  73. Prof. Adolfo Gilly, Profesor Emérito, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)
  74. Mange Ram Adhana, President, Association for promotion sustainable development. Hisar. India
  75. Ms. Kelsey Yarnell, MLIS student Kent State University
  76. Prof. Dr. Kaat Wils, Research Group Cultural History since 1750,  KU Leuven
  77. The Honourable Paul de Baets, President of the Marine Devision of the Court of Appeal at Antwerp
  78. Stefan Haagedoorn, Trainee, EUROCLIO, European Association of History Educators
  79. Dr. Bob Reinalda, Senior Researcher Political Science, Radboud University Nijmegen
  80. Sam Maat, trainee, EUROCLIO, European Association of History Educators
  81. Linda Haukland, PhD Candidate, North University
  82. Drs. Anne Helfrich, project cordinator, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD)
  83. Francesca Di Pasquale, Postdoctoral Researcher, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation (NIOD)
  84. Lutske Holthuis, Student Bachelor of Arts (History), University of Groningen
  85. Dr. Bas von Benda-Beckmann, Researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies
  86. Peter Malcontent, Assistant Professor, Department History of International Relations, Utrecht University
  87. Dr. Ralf Futselaar, Researcher, NIOD Institute for war, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies
  88. Dr. Nina Witoszek, Research Director Center for Development and the Environment, Oslo University
  89. Christophe Busch, Managing Director, Kazerne Dossin Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights, Belgium
  90. Dr. Nina Schneider, Global South Study Center (GSSC), University of Cologne
  91. Carlo Angeles, Executive Director, Somos el Presente
  92. Dr. Erik Somers, NIOD Institute for war, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies
  93. Prof. dr. Kees Ribbens, Senior Researcher / Endowed Professor, NIOD Institute for War-, Holocaust- and Genocide Studies / Erasmus University Rotterdam
  94. Dr. Karel Berkhoff, Senior Researcher, NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies
  95. Dr. José Gotovitch, Professeur Honoraire d’Histoire Contemporaine, l’Université Libre de Bruxelles
  96. Dr. Frank Haldemann, SNSF Professor of Law, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights
  97. Natasha Marguli, Political Collections and Access Management Archivist, Arkansas State University
  98. Dr. Hilda Sabato, Investigadora Superior, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Argentina
  99. Dr. Anne J. Gilliland, Professor, Department of Information Studies, University of California
  100. Dr. Eric Strahorn, Associate Professor of History, Florida Gulf Coast University
  101. SamanthaWinn, Collections Archivist, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  102. Mr. David Diaz-Jogeix, Director of Programmes, Article 19
  103.   Mr. Mathijs Eskes, Student, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RuG)
  104. Prof. Georg Iggers, Distinguished Prof. emeritus, State Univ of NY at Buffalo
  105. Prof. Paolo Pezzino, Professor emeritus, University of Pisa
  106. Prof. dr. Raymond Detrez (emiritus), Ghent University, Katholieke Universiteit van Leuven
  107. Ms. Flora Fleischer, Director, Open Knowledge Ireland
  108. Dr. Lore Colaert, Researcher, Flemish Peace Institute
  109. Dr. Blythe Alice Raviola, historian, indipendent scholar, Turin (Italy)
  110. Prof. dr. Nanci Adler, Department of History, University of Amsterdam
  111. Ziad El Baroudi, independent researcher, Belgium
  112. Dr. Philip Grant, Director, TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), Geneva
  113. Marina Demetriadou, PhD candidate, Department of History, University of Crete, Greece
  114. Prof. dr. Patrizia Violi, Professor of Semiotics, Università di Bologna
  115. Marijana Toma, Deputy Executive Director, Humanitarian Law Center
  116. Dr. Catherine Baker, Lecturer in 20th Century History, University of Hull
  117. Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic, PhD Student, Minority Studies, University of Copenhagen
  118. Dr. Jasna Dragovic-Soso, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, Goldsmiths, University of London
  119. Prof. dr. Vikki Bell, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
  120. Jessie Hronešová, DPhil Candidate in Politics, St Antony's College, University of Oxford
  121. Dr. Neven Andjelic, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Human Rights, Regent's University London 
  122. Dr. Jovana Mihajlović Trbovc, Postdoctoral Researcher, Institute for Culture and Memory Studies, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  123. Prof. Renaud de la Brosse, Professor of Media and Communication Science, Linnaeus University Sweden