Victims as ‘Means to an End’: An Investigation into the Construction of CRSV Victimhood in the ICTY


  • Kirsty Lawrie



Law has the power to pronounce truth. In the context of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), this paper illustrates law’s ability to define,legitimise and privilege some narratives of victimhood, while also misinterpreting, silencing, and suppressing others. Looking at courtroom transcripts from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), this pilot study investigates the witness testimonies of four Bosniak women who, during the Yugoslav Wars, were detained in camps and systematically raped by Serbian soldiers. A contextualised, micro-level, qualitative approach is taken to analyse their testimonies, looking specifically at the courtroom process, conduct between actorsand narration of events. Through victim-witnesses’ words the wider structures and individual realities of CRSV are brought to light, with their experiences revealing ethnic tensions at play, ideas of nation-wide
justice, and a strong, determined character in victims. Yet this paper argues that such narratives of victims were not acknowledged or understood by either the defence or the prosecution, suggesting that the tribunal failed to gauge the reality of CRSV. Given law’s power, and therefore the ICTY’s power, to pronounce truth, this study is crucial for international legal bodies going forward to improve the comprehension, prosecution, and, ultimately, the interruption of CRSV.