Summary of "My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Ethnic Cleansing"

Summary of

My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Ethnic Cleansing

By Eric Stover and Harvey M. Weinstein

Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Stover, Eric, and Harvey M. Weinstein, eds. 2004. My Neighbor, My Enemy: Justice and Community in the Aftermath of Ethnic Cleansing. New York: Cambridge University Press.

This collection addresses a crucial question for transitional justice: what are the consequences of having utilized transitional justice mechanisms. Although there is widespread support for various efforts to address past human rights abuses, there is little empirical evidence as to what the impacts of these mechanisms are. The authors seek to answer this question in the context of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In these contexts, the specific question explored is what contribution can trials and international tribunals play in so reconstruction and reconciliation. Alarmingly, their findings suggest these types of tools have little consequence for reconciliation. Although they do not dismiss the utility of trials as means to fight impunity and punish perpetrators, they do argue it is not enough. They suggest an ecological model of social reconstruction and point to the need for a coordinated, multi-pronged effort on the part of domestic and international actors.

Chapters in the first part of the book look specifically at the impact of judicial mechanisms on survivors. Fletcher and Weinstein interview Bosnian judges and prosecutors and find that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has failed to connect with national judiciaries thereby providing little impetus for future development of the rule of law. Furthermore, the dismissive nature in which the ICTY has treated the domestic legal profession has generated bitterness. Des Forges and Longman find a similar response to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Rwandans hear little of what is happening at the ICTR or of trials being conducted in Europe under universal jurisdiction. There is also skepticism regarding the national courts, which some see as weapons against the government's opponents. Karekezi et al. examine the village-level courts called gacaca that are in the process of getting starting in order to facilitate speedier trials and reintegrate more minor offenders. Although they see some value in gacaca, there do appear to be concerns about the degree to which judges and community participants are prepared, the standards of evidence to be used, and it remains unclear how social pressure will effect trials. One of the most difficult trade-offs in post-conflict situations is between the evidentiary needs and the desires of the families of victims. Stove and Shigekane find that, for the families, finding remains and putting their loved ones to rest is more important then the sense of justice that might be realized from a trial where the evidence is used. In a study of victims and witnesses who appeared before the ICTY, Stover finds that they got more comfort from simply being in the courtroom with the diminished perpetrator then from any sense the justice had actually been carried out. Consequently, he argues that more attention needs to be focused on making the experience as positive as possible and to provide them with support and security afterwards. Roht-Arriaza points to the importance of reparations as a tangible sign of acknowledgment of past suffering and, therefore, significant for reconciliation.

Part Two looks more closely at the processes by which rebuilding, both physical and social, can take place. Corkalo et al. conduct interviews in three divided cities in Bosnia and Croatia regarding the war, justice, and reconciliation. They find physical rebuilding to have far surpassed the social. To realize the latter, they see a need for psychological intervention for individual victims suffering trauma, the reconstruction of social links, and reestablishment of the rule of law. Longman and Rutagengwa explore similar questions in Rwanda. The Rwandan government has taken a number of steps to construct new memory and identity through the media and education, for example. However, while the government espouses equality and the need to take responsibility for the past, its actual practices are undermining the message amongst at least some portions of society. Chapters by Biro et al. and Longman et al. describe the results of larger quantitative surveys probing similar questions in Bosnia/Croatia and Rwanda respectively. In all three locations, they find that ethnicity continues to shape perceptions of their past, present, and future. Freedman et al. look at education as a facilitator or obstacle of reconstruction in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Children and educators feel caught in between competing visions of how history should be portrayed. The authors conclude that what is needed is a curriculum that is unified, emphasizes critical thinking about the past, and allows for an open and democratic examination of different perspectives.

The final section examines the long-term consequences of violence and how these effects become imprinted on dinviduals and societies. Blotner looks at the reaction of artists to the war in the Balkans. The importance of place figures prominently. What is more, older artists tended to be nostalgic for the past, the middle generation reflect upon the war and the tremendous suffering, and young artists mostly avoided war themes in their work. Ajdukovic and Corkalo study survivors of the war in Vukovar. The feeling of betrayal by neighbors is a significant obstacle to reconciliation. The authors acknowledgment and apology on both sides are needed in order to restore trust. Halpern and Weinstein ask the difficult question of whether former enemies can be rehumanized. Political and social support for the development of feelings of empathy appear to be crucial in order for this to occur.