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Historian reveals human rights issues in Yugoslavia at PLNU event

More than 6000 miles away from San Diego, a mass grave discovered days ago in Bosnia is believed to contain the remains of hundreds of people caught in a conflict that erupted after the breakup of what was once Yugoslavia.

Tuesday on campus, historian Robert Donia described how crimes against human rights involve massive cover-ups, and how countries around the world struggle to find proof against officials involved.

Donia was invited by history and political science professor Diana Reynolds Cordileone; the two met in Europe where Donia has been studying and visiting since the 1960s. Donia spoke on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which has prosecuted violations of humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia since the 1990’s.

Colt Hall was filled for the afternoon lecture to hear why Donia believes there is currently a crisis in the enforcement of human rights, and used his work in and knowledge of Yugoslavia to explain why.

Donia explained that many aren’t familiar with the way human rights are enforced internationally, despite the conversation it brings.

“We live in an international environment that is saturated with human rights discussion,” said Donia. “But there are some very little known aspects of this.”

The lecture focused on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which has prosecuted violations of humanitarian law in the former Yugoslavia since the 1990’s. Donia has testified in 15 war crimes trials at the ICTY as a historical expert witness.

The ICTY has indicted 161 persons and found 69 guilty, all of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war or breeches of the Geneva Conventions. Donia said that he was there to see the first of these.

Up until a year ago, according to Donia, the ICTY’s judges have ruled on with a perspective he calls “contextualism.” This type of ruling looks at statements and events as a whole and takes note of the context behind them. Recently though, Donia said that the courts of ITCY have changed their perspective to one of “literalism.”

“This is a radical departure from previous rulings,” said Donia.

Donia spoke about three newly implemented court rules, and commented on how the last rule, that of evidence seen on an individual level rather than as a whole, is illogical.

“Every piece of a 100 piece puzzle must show the entire picture as a whole or it must be thrown out,” said Donia. “This contradicts all human logic. Even Hitler left no evidence linking him to the Holocaust. Under this system it is likely he would have not even been convicted. If literalism becomes official law there will likely be no more human rights convictions in this area.”

Rosco Williamson, faculty chair for the department of History and Political Science, attended Donia’s lecture and said his lecture calls on Christians to be more involved in social justice.

“Dr. Donia does an excellent job of highlighting the practical difficulties of actually enforcing human rights globally,” said Williamson. “He made it clear that we can’t just give up in frustration. We are called as human beings and as Christians to be actively engaged in protecting the dignity and humanness of every single person of the world.”

Sophomore PLNU student Melanie Martinez, who has worked on mission projects in the areas of the former Yugoslavia, attended Donia’s lecture and said she now believes the human rights court system in the former Yugoslavia needs change.

“I already knew the nation has a lot of political unrest from of my mission work,” said Martinez. “While the lecture was a little hard to follow at times, I did understand the frustration with the system and why there needs to be a change.”

Donia emphasized that a change in the government system, particularly the courts, needed to be made in order to convict on the basis of human rights.

“I think it’s time to refocus our efforts in human rights enforcement,” said Donia.