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Analysis of questions used in interviews of warcrimes witnesses and victims in the aftermath of the 1999 Kovoso conflict

A variety of non-governmental organizations conducted interviews of witnesses and victims of warcrimes in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict. These efforts were driven by several factors:

 

        A desire to record accounts of atrocities in hopes of bringing perpetrators to justice.

 

        Lessons learned from the Bosnian conflict about the value of gathering first hand information as quickly as possible information in order to help prosecute war criminals.

 

        A desire to preserve accounts of what happened as a means of preventing history from repeating itself.

 

The collection of information after the Kosovo conflict was unprecedented. Information technology allowed almost anyone with the desire to gather reports and share them with other people or agencies collecting information. While great improvements in collection and aggregation of information were made from the Bosnian conflict to the Kosovo conflict, there is still room to apply lessons learned in Kosovo to future refugee flow and conflict situations.

 

The refugee flow out of Kosovo expanded from 20,000 to over 800,000 in the span of weeks. During this time the need to talk to refugees for the purposes of reuniting separated families was so urgent that little thought was given to the legal consequences of the interview questions. The data collection was heroic under the circumstances and represents a great achievement for NGO's in their impact on post conflict relief. The data collected will continue to have unprecedented impact, as the work of the International Criminal Tribunal proceeds. Now that the conflict has passed, the task of the international community is not only to analyze the data collected, but also to analyze the methods by which it was collected.

One area ripe for analysis is the relation of the questions asked in interviews to the admissibility to documentary testimony in war crimes tribunal proceedings. The American Bar Association Central and Eastern Legal Initiative (ABA / CEELI) effort to collect information in conjunction with The Center For Peace Through Justice, Crisis Group International, OSCE, and the KVM. The ABA / CEELI group collected information from approximately 1500 interviews detailing upwards of 4000 criminal incidents. The questions used in these interviews and the results they produced are instructive to the task of designing questions for use in future post conflict information gathering situations.

 

The questions asked by the ABA / CEELI project interviewers and a brief analysis of those questions is presented below.

 

The questions on the ABA / CEELI interview form are as follows:

 

ABA / CEELI Interview questions:

 

About the interview:

 

1. Date of interview (dd/mm/yy)

2. Name of Interviewer

3. Location of Interview

 

To be asked before the interview:

 

1. Have you previously been interviewed? (Y/N)

2. If yes, by whom, where and when?

3. How many times?

4. Do you have new information that you would like to communicate at this time? (Y / N)

 

Personal Details:

 

1. First Name

2. Family Name

3. Father's Name

4. Gender (M/F)

5. Birthdate

6. Birthplace

7. Ethnicity (Kosovar Albanian, Serb, Roma, Other)

8. Profession

9. Religion

10. Political Affiliation (Member, Supporter)

11. Permanent address

12. Temporary Address

13. Point of contact in Kosovo or Outside

14. Date of departure form Kosovo

 

Circumstances of departure:

 

  1. Describe in detail the circumstances of your departure including events you personally witnessed:

 

(note to interviewer: should the above answer be incomplete with regard to acts of violence, please ask about the use of force against the interviewee or others (as witnesses by the interviewee) and the clothing worn by the perpetrators. You can write on the back of this page.)

 

Classification of Violation or Incidents:

 

(note to interviewer: Complete the fllowing pages with informationfrom the interviewee, taking care not to share this form with the interviewee. If you need further information to complete these sections, please ask the interviewee without leading him/her to respond in a particular manner.)

 

Incident 1:

 

  1. Were there acts of violence against you?
  2. Did you witness any acts of violence?
  3. Location
  4. Date
  5. Municipality
  6. Time
  7. Perpetrators? (Police, VJ / JNA, Paramilitary, KLA, Other)
  8. Types of Crime?
    1. Killings,
    2. torture,
    3. Forced Displacement,
    4. Destruction / theft of property

                                                               i.      Specify the type of property and its value

    1. Arrest / abdusctrion
    2. Harassment
    3. Sexual assault
    4. Injuries
    5. Other
  1. Describe the items checked above in more detail

(note to interviewer: please note on the form if the incident describes above, or a portion of it, was one that the interviewee heard about but did not experience or witness.)

 

Incidents 2-5:

Contained identical questions to incident 1 above

 

Route to Exit:

 

  1. Describe the route you took to exit Kosovo or to leave from home, including means of transportation.

 

Documentation:

 

  1. What kind of documentation is missing?
    1. Passport
    2. Identity card
    3. Driver's licence
    4. Birth certificate
    5. Other
  2. Why is the documentation missing?
    1. Confiscated
    2. Destroyed
    3. Burned
    4. Lost
    5. Where?
    6. When?
  3. Perpetrators?
    1. Police
    2. VJ / JNA
    3. Paramilitary
    4. KLA
    5. Other

 

Future Plans:

 

1.Remain in Kosovo? (Y / N)

a. where

  1. Going Abroad (Y / N)
    1. Where?
  2. Other?

 

Names of other witnesses to contact:

 

  1. Other witnesses (Specify the first name, last name, family name, address and the relation with other witnesses)

 

Would you be willing to provide more detailed testimony for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia? (Y / N)

 

Other comments (From interviewee):

 

 

Analysis of Questions:

 

There ware a variety of challenges facing the teams collecting information using this interview form. Some of the most significant were:

  • Language
  • Cultural compatibility with interviewee
  • Writing quickly enough to accurately record the information.
  • Guiding the interviewee so that the information presented was the information that the interviewer aimed to collect.
  • Categorizing the information when the interviewee told of multiple types of events.
      • This was recurrent to the point that the interviewers gave up on using the interview form in the field and instead used a notebook to record interview and later transcribed the interview notes onto the interview form.
  • Translation of written interview forms into English
  • Entry of English translations into an electronic database
      • this presented a challenge because of the time required for data entry, the scarcity of people with computer skills, and difficulty working with a roughly designed database application.
  • Inconsistencies with spellings of place names in Albanian, and Serbo-Croation

 

Issues arising from specific interview questions:

 

Reference Number:

 

Reference numbers were troubling because interviews were taking place in multiple locations at the same time. Several different attempts were made to come up with a consistent system of reference numbers. Inconsistent posed an additional challenge for analysis of the data in a database. A database requires that each record have a unique identifier. This peoblem was solved for the ABA / CEELI database by creating an additional field in the database for an "Internal" reference number that would be used by the database application but would be alterable or visible by database users.

About the interview:

 

1. Date of interview (mm/dd/yy)

2. Name of Interviewer

3. Location of Interview

 

These fields did not present any major problems.

 

To be asked before the interview:

 

1. Have you previously been interviewed? (Y/N)

2. If yes, by whom, where and when?

3. How many times?

4. Do you have new information that you would like to communicate at this time? (Y / N)

 

Having multiple teams interviewing simultaneously led to the possibility of subjects being interviewed multiple times. Interviewing all subjects in a systematic manner is impracticable so other methods of determining if a subject has been interviewed before are necessary. The danger of multiple interviews of the same subject is similar to that of people voting more than once in an election it throws off the results.

 

Even if it were possible to interview each subject only once, it would not be possible or desirable to limit descriptions of incidents to ones that you had not previously heard of. To counter the problem of multiple reporting the same incident, the Chicago-Kent College of Law / Illinois Institute of Technology Database development team working on this project is developing analysis functionality to find descriptions of the same incident in aggregated data. This ability will increase the accuracy of the understanding of an event by allowing all known descriptions of that event to be compared in an effort to determine what happened.

 

Another challenge presented by multiple interviews of the same subject is that of inconsistent testimony. If a subject tells of an incident involving three killings in one interview and then tells of the same incident but with five killings in a subsequent interview, that subject's testimony can be thrown out of a criminal proceeding because of the inconsistency. The database application under development by the IPRO team will be able to identify multiple interviews given by the same subject. This identification will enable inconsistencies to be spotted in advance of a criminal proceeding and either reconciled through additional questioning of the subject, or not used in construction of a case.

 

Personal Details:

 

1. First Name

2. Family Name

3. Father's Name

 

All names collected were subject to problems of how to spell them consistently. Inconsistent spelling of names can lead to errors in trying to group families together, and trouble identifying people names as corroborating witnesses. One way to deal with this problem is to agree in advance on the language that will be used in writing names.

 

4. Gender (M/F)

5. Birthdate

6. Birthplace

 

This question presented the difficulty of place names being gathered in different languages. Another problem here was whether the desired information is the street, villiage, town, city, province, or country. The purpose of this field is to help with identification for reunification purposes. As such, the desired information is at most the city. The preferable information would have been the town or village.

 

7. Ethnicity (Kosovar Albanian, Serb, Roma, Other)

 

These four ethnicities served to account for the vast majority of the people interviewed. Determining the ethnicities of the people involved in a crisis would be one of the styeps required to customized a data collection system for use in a new situation. In this case, ABA / CEELI interviewers new that these four ethnic groups represented the majority of the people effected.

 

8. Profession

9. Religion

10. Political Affiliation (Member, Supporter)

 

These three items, especially the latter two are information that can cause serious problems for the interview subjects if the information falls into the wrong hands. Much of the persecution that went on in the Kosovo conflict was related to Serbian efforts to identify members of the KLA. If an interview subject identified himself as a KLA member, that information could be used as a basis for persecution of the subject or the subjects family, neighbors, or friends. Since that information is so sensitive and volatile, it is unlikely that an interview subject would volunteer it. A more likely consequences of including such a question is to discredit the interviewing organization and the interviewer in the perception of the interview subject. This factor should be considered against the reasons for obtaining such information before deciding weather to include it or not.

 

11. Permanent address

12. Temporary Address

 

This question was ambiguous in many of the circumstances in which it was asked. In the immediate post conflict time period, the field was usually filled in with the name of the refugee camp or accommodation outside of Kosovo where the subject was staying. As refugees returned to Kosovo, this field was either left blank, or used to indicate a temporary place of residence during reconstruction. I either case, it was unclear what the field intended to collect. If it's intent is to collect temporary location information for reunification purposes it should say that explicitly.

 

13. Point of contact in Kosovo or Outside

14. Date of departure form Kosovo

 

Circumstances of departure:

 

  1. Describe in detail the circumstances of your departure including events you personally witnessed:

 

(note to interviewer: should the above answer be incomplete with regard to acts of violence, please ask about the use of force against the interviewee or others (as witnesses by the interviewee) and the clothing worn by the perpetrators. You can write on the back of this page.)

 

Classification of Violation or Incidents:

 

(note to interviewer: Complete the following pages with information from the interviewee, taking care not to share this form with the interviewee. If you need further information to complete these sections, please ask the interviewee without leading him/her to respond in a particular manner.)

 

Incident 1:

 

1. Were there acts of violence against you?

2. Did you witness any acts of violence?

3. Location

 

The location field was sometimes used to report a town or village name, and some times used to provide a reference point like, "where the railroad tracks cross the river". Both types of information are crucial. A field specifically asking for reference points would be helpfule in matching up descriptions of the same incident. These sorts of descriptions helped to identify the Bela Crkva and other massacres in South Western Kosovo.

 

4. Date

5. Municipality

6. Time

 

This field returned responses of numerical time as well as morning, evening, day etc. Specifying what form of answer is desired will help make such a field more useful is analysis.

 

7. Perpetrators? (Police, VJ / JNA, Paramilitary, KLA, Other)

 

Subjects often had more information about incident perpetrators than could be expressed through a checkbox selection. Detailed information about perpetrators would be useful for tracking movements of known groups such as Arkan's Tigers, or for identifying figures who are commonly known to village residents but unknown to the rest of the world.

 

A future data electronic data collection system should have a text box to allow subjects to be descriptive about the perpetrators of crimes.

 

8. Types of Crime?

    1. Killings,
    2. torture,
    3. Forced Displacement,
    4. Destruction / theft of property

                                                               i.      Specify the type of property and its value

    1. Arrest / abdusctrion
    2. Harassment
    3. Sexual assault
    4. Injuries
    5. Other

 

These crimes mirror some of the acts which if committed under the certain circumstanced constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Looking for these types of crimes shows foresight on the part of the people who created the interviewing form. Additional questions would establish or help to establish some of the other elements necessary to demonstrate that grave breaches were committed. The following excerpt from the Fall 1999 IPRO report identifies questions that could be used to show the presence of conditions necessary to establishes grave breached of the Geneva conventions:

 

A frustrating aspect of investigation war crimes violations within the ICTY framework is that acts that seem obviously criminal, such as the killing of a group of unarmed civilians, are complicated by attempting to fit them into one of the categories described above. For example, weather or not there was a battle going on at the time of the killing makes a big difference in terms of fitting the killing into a war crime category. Similarly, it also matters if there were members of the military amongst those killed, or if there was a reason for the perpetrators to believe that were members of the opposing military in nearby threatening them. Furthermore, if certain actions happen while a foreign force is occupying territory, the law and outcome is very different then if the occupying troops were native to the country they are in.

 

Thousands of distinctions like these exist in the complex body of law that makes up war crimes investigations. Designing data collections systems with these considerations in mind can help to ensure that information that will make a difference in a prosecution is collected during an interview with a witness or victim. Often, the necessary information will not seem pertinent to the experience of the interview subject, and would not be gathered unless the interviewer had an idea of what sort of questions to ask.

 

Interview questions derived from study of ICTY war crime elements:

 

The following questions are useful in determining if there was an occupying military force where an incident took place:

 

   At the time of that incident, were there soldiers in sight?

   Were there military vehicles?

   Do you know where the soldiers were from?

   If they were speaking, do you recall what language?

 

The following questions are helpful in determining if an incident took place during a battle:

 

   Was there any (other if applicable) shooting going on?

   Were there soldiers in sight?

   Were there military vehicles in sight?

   If the situation was confusing, describe what you remember. (smoke, explosions indicate that a battle was going on)

 

Questions for determining if specific groups were targeted for persecution:

 

   Did the perpetrators commit the crime against everyone present?

   If not how were the victims selected?

   How would you describe the victims as a group? Did they have anything in common?

Questions to recognize attacks on undefended towns, dwellings and buildings:

 

   Have you ever seen soldiers at the place of the attack before?

   Do you remember hearing shooting or seeing military equipment there before?

 

 

Having specific questions designed to help interviewers gather pertinent information can strengthen cases for each of the war crimes that the ICTY has jurisdiction to prosecute. The questions will be incorporated into the data collection forms, either electronic and integrated into the data collection device, or printed version of the electronic forms to be used for taking notes during interviews, which will be entered into the database later.

Part of the process of customizing the data collection applications for use in future refugee flow situations will be an investigating the specific laws and rules of evidence in use by the judicial body with jurisdiction to investigate crimes connected with the refugee flow. This investigation will facilitate development of interview questions and data entry screens and forms designed specifically to collect information that will be the most useful in prosecuting cases.

 

9. Describe the items checked above in more detail

(note to interviewer: please note on the form if the incident describes above, or a portion of it, was one that the interviewee heard about but did not experience or witness.)

 

Incidents 2-5:

Contained identical questions to incident 1 above

 

Route to Exit:

 

  1. Describe the route you took to exit Kosovo or to leave from home, including means of transportation.

 

Documentation:

 

  1. What kind of documentation is missing?
    1. Passport
    2. Identity card
    3. Driver's licence
    4. Birth certificate
    5. Other
  2. Why is the documentation missing?
    1. Confiscated
    2. Destroyed
    3. Burned
    4. Lost
    5. Where?
    6. When?
  3. Perpetrators?
    1. Police
    2. VJ / JNA
    3. Paramilitary
    4. KLA
    5. Other

 

These fields were most often filled in after the information they ask for came out in a description of the subjects departure from Kosovo, or of one of the criminal incidents.

 

Future Plans:

 

1.Remain in Kosovo? (Y / N)

a. where

  1. Going Abroad (Y / N)
    1. Where?
  2. Other?

 

Names of other witnesses to contact:

 

  1. Other witnesses (Specify the first name, last name, family name, address and the relation with other witnesses)

 

Would you be willing to provide more detailed testimony for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia? (Y / N)

 

Other comments (From interviewee):

 

 


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