Editor's note: As a follow-up to Mike Faher's report from Wednesday's Reformer ("Local judge recalls war-crimes trials," Page 7), Bill Holiday's class collaborated on this piece, detailing their further interaction with Patricia Whalen on Thursday.
BRATTLEBORO -- A social studies seminar course at Brattleboro Union High School has studied the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the 1992 to 1995 Bosnian Conflict during the fall semester this school year. Throughout the course, the students have had the opportunity to meet with people directly associated with or involved in the two topics both in person and through video-chats. This has included a conference call with students who live in Belgrade, the capital city of Serbia, as well as many other conferences with tribunal judges, peace advocates and people who grew up in the midst of these conflicts.
On Tuesday, Jan. 7, this class welcomed a visit from Patricia Whalen who spent time as a judge on the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2007-2012 in Sarajevo. The panel that she was on resided over cases from the Bosnian war. During the meeting with Whalen she discussed court cases that she had been involved in, one of which was the Milorad Trbiç case. To this day Trbiç is the only person who has been convicted of committing mass genocide in the Bosnian Conflict. Whalen mentioned that Trbiç's case was unusual because her court often tried regiments of people for carrying out war crimes as a cadre.
During the meeting Whalen also discussed the siege of Sarajevo, which was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. She said that during the siege the civilians in the city had no access to water or electricity and survived off of very small food rations, until those were cut off as well in ‘95. Whalen highlighted how horrendous the violent acts that took place throughout the war were and how justice is needed to bring closure.
On Thursday, Jan. 9, the class held a follow up discussion with Whalen using Skype thanks to the technological expertise of social studies teacher Bill Holiday. The purpose of this meeting was for Whalen to give background to the students on some footage that was taken during the process of the onset Srebrenica massacre. Whalen said this footage played an immense role in the trials and that almost every person whose face was visible in the footage was identified by a team of investigators. Using two computers, Holiday was able to show the footage alongside the live video chat projected onto the wall. Whalen then provided in-time feedback on the clip's critical moments.
"We use technology often in this course. There isn't a single day where our teacher has handed out a physical sheet of paper. It's revolutionary, a different classroom experience," Connor Tripp, a junior, said.
"We Skype a lot. It's really useful since it allows us to talk to people halfway across the world that we wouldn't normally be able to talk to," said Kacie Shippa, a senior.
While the class Skyped with Judge Whalen, they saw four clips of evidence. These clips, much like the Nazi's records, were the downfall of the Army of Republika Srpska. Members of the Army were fond of home videos, which after the war became evidence. In one of the four clips the class saw Ratko Mladic, who was a commander in the Army and is currently on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for genocide, ordering his men around. In another, the class saw the Army capturing UN vehicles. These vehicles were later used by the Army to make the Muslim men who had escaped come to them for safety, only to be captured again and eventually killed. A third video the class saw was taken just before the Srebrenica Massacre. The footage showed men being separated from the women and rounded up on to buses that would later bring them to what were to become mass graves. The footage also showed the Dutch Battalion's lack of reaction to what was happening, as well as the piles of belongings people were told to leave behind.
"All the men you see in this video who aren't in the DutchBat or the Army of Republika Srpska are dead now." said Whalen.
The pile of belongings was particularly useful during the trial, because you can't screen someone for war crimes, as the Serbians claimed they would, with no means of identification.
"These clips have helped me understand the tragedy of this entire situation. They really helped me cement that this is a real thing. It was still happening 20 years ago. It ended, officially, the year before I was born. Realizing that was just crazy," said Shippa.
The class was incredibly grateful to be able to speak with Whalen not once, but twice. Whalen's visit to BUHS gave the students first-hand insight into the process of investigation, research, and trial of former criminals of war.