Report 01 Mar 12

Serbs Defensive Over War Crimes, Survey Shows

Key findings of the OSCE survey about Serbian attitudes towards war crimes and the trials held at the Hague Tribunal and national courts.

Marija Ristic

A survey, conducted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, and the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, gathered data about the awareness and attitudes of Serbian people towards war crimes, the Hague Tribunal and the national judiciary.

The survey of 1407 people over the age of 16 who were questioned in face-to-face interviews conducted in September and October 2011.

War crimes - understanding responsibility

According to the survey, 44 per cent of people believe that a soldier should not obey  orders that would lead to a war crime.

However, 43 per cent of citizens think that officers who either did not order the war crime, or did not do anything to stop the war crime, should not be prosecuted.

When it comes to which court should prosecute war crimes, 45 per cent believes that national courts should prosecute its own citizens, while only 11 per cent are in favour of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.

Attitudes towards the ICTY

One fifth of Serbians are not familiar with the work of the ICTY, while 66 per cent think that  establishing  the ICTY was unnecessary.

40 per cent of those questioned believe that the purpose of  ICTY prosecutions was to blame the Serbs for all the suffering caused by the war .  The same percentage thinks that Serbia should not cooperate with the Hague Tribunal.

The best known trial  is that of Vojislav Seselj, followed by Ratko Mladic’s trial. The third best known trial is that of Radovan Karadzic.

The majority of respondents believe that around 50 Serbs are currently being prosecuted by  the ICTY, while less than ten Croats, Bosniaks and Albanians are facing justice at the Tribunal.

74 per cent of Serbians strongly believe that Serbia should help all the  Serbs being prosecuted,  whether or not they are Serbian citizens.

58 per cent of respondents know which crimes  Karadzic is being prosecuted for; while half of them think that he is not responsible for crimes he is accused of.

The charges against Mladic are more familiar to Serbian citizens. 64 % of them knew which crimes Mladic is being prosecuted for,  while 49 per cent think he is not responsible for those crimes.

The majority of the respondents, around 65 per cent, believe that the prosecutions were not fair to  Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks  or Albanians.

90 per cent of the respondents  have never read any judgment issued by the ICTY.

Half of the respondents think that the truth about the war will never reach ordinary people, while 71 per cent believes that ICTY prosecutions do not contribute to  reconciliation in the region.

The majority is also in favour of broadcasting the major trials on local TV channels.

Truth and Reconciliation -  Future

Over half of those questioned, 57 per cent, think that apologies by state representatives do not contribute to the reconciliation processes in the region.

Only one third of the respondents think that the educational system can influence the attitudes of the younger generations towards the conflicts in the 90s.

The justice system and the government are the ones that should tell the unpleasant truth about the war to its people, the majority of respondents believes.

Awareness and attitudes towards the conflicts in the 90s

69 per cent believed  that the Serbs had suffered the most during the conflicts in the 90s, while only 16 per cent believed that the Bosniaks had suffered the most.

According to the survey, the perception is that  most war crimes were committed by Croats.followed by the Albanians, then the  Bosniaks, and lastly the  Serbs.

Less than half of respondents knew what had happened in Srebrenica, while 42 per cent think that the killing of Bosniaks there was genocide.

The best-known war crimes in Serbia are the crimes committed in Kosovo by the Kosovo Liberation Army, and the Oluja operation by Croatian army.

Awareness of the work of  the Serbian courts

47 per cent of respondents are not familiar with the work of the Serbian Prosecution Office, while  the same number of respondents believes that the prosecution do not have the courage to initiate  judicial  action against the highest commanders in the  police and army.  

However, the majority of  Serbian citizens believe that the Serbian courts make judgments based on the evidence, and they accept their decisions.

Half of the respondents believe that prosecutions are not contributing to reconciliation in the region.

Role of the Media

The public forms its opinions on war crimes based on the views of domestic analysts, then legal experts, and finally media reports.

36 per cent of the respondents believe that the public should be better informed, while 25 per cent of them are satisfied with the information currently provided by the  media.

When it comes to objective reporting, 47 per cent of those questioned believe that media reports are professional, while 37 per cent believes they are biased.

55 per cent of Serbian citizens think that the media is more focused on the perpetrators than the victims.

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