The war in Bosnia has been presented as a paradigm of a “new” type of war that targets civilian populations. Accordingly, victim tolls have become crucial to interpretations of the war. This article analyses how (civilian) victims have become both an object of such assessments and a means for establishing proof in investigations and trials. It opens with a presentation of the basic difficulties faced in making these estimates : (1) the nearness of the events ; (2) the multiplicity of national and international institutions contributing to them, as well as the multiplicity of victim categorizations ; (3) the international dimension of the conflict, marked by the presence of UN forces ; (4) the interwoven character of war-time and post-war appraisals ; and (5) the overlapping of post-war and pre-war (communist period) appraisals. The focus is then narrowed to a precise comparison of the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) concerning the crimes committed in Prijedor in 1992 and those committed in Srebrenica in 1995, which have been the object of numerous investigations and reports. This comparison shows the distinctions among NGO-generated, historical and judiciary models of investigation. It also points to significant differences in how the various assessments and testimonies of victims (both alive and dead) contribute to establishing judicial truth. Through this comparison, the article challenges interpretations framed in terms of “new wars”, as well as a “traditional” interpretation of international criminal justice as inherited from Nuremberg.
By Isabelle Delpla