Expert Witnesses at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Thursday, October 15, 2009
12:00pm - 1:30pm
Room 1302 International Affairs Building

Please join the School of International and Public Affairs, the Harriman Institute, the European Institute and the East Central European Center of Columbia University in welcoming Richard A. Wilson of the University of Connecticut.

Why have prosecutors and defense attorneys called historians and social scientists as expert witnesses at the ICTY? Prosecutors and defense counsel both engage in a 'battle over the first paragraph' of the judgment and seek to frame the acts in a way that tilts the bench in their favor. Prosecutors are faced with cases where the evidentiary basis is weak and they must construct a circumstantial case built upon inference from scattered facts. Prosecutors in genocide cases have led expert evidence on nationalist history (e.g., Greater Serbia in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic) to seek to prove mens rea, that is, criminal intent of a premeditated kind. Defense expert witnesses are introduced to contest prosecutors' views on nationalism and to show instead the cultural side of nationalism-as encompassing its best and non-violent achievements in art, literature and cultural self-realization. Experts can also be part of a tu quoque defense, whereby criminal acts are portrayed as the product of recent and distant historical provocations and atrocities. We conclude with an evaluation of the ICTY's historical account of the 1991-5 conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Richard A. Wilson is the Gladstein Distinguished Chair of Human Rights, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Human Rights Institute at the University of Connecticut. He has written on human rights, truth commissions and international criminal tribunals, and his authored or edited books include The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa (2001), Human Rights and the ‘War on Terror’ (2005) and Humanitarianism and Suffering: the mobilization of empathy (2008). Presently he holds a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and is writing a book on ‘Judging History: the use of historical and social science evidence in international criminal trials’. He serves as the Chair of the Connecticut State Advisory Committee of the US Civil Rights Commission.