Chicago Journal of International Law

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In 1567, a bridge was built over a river in Bosnia—a bridge widely seen as a work of great beauty. In 1993, it was destroyed in a war. What did its destruction mean? Was it a crime—and which one? An assault on culture—and whose? Between 2004 and 2017, a trial held in The Hague sought to answer these questions. The way it did—the assumptions and categories the prosecutors and judges deployed, the choices they made—tells us something important about how law operates and how it appropriates other bodies of knowledge, whether in a now-obscure Balkan conflict or on the battlefields today’s courts confront. Our inquiry begins with an interesting puzzle: why didn’t the prosecution of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal charge the most obvious crime—destruction of an historical monument? The answer turns out to be obvious too, but the path by which that obvious answer was reached— and what happened after—was complicated in ways that tell us something even more interesting about what law does to the events and values it is supposed to serve. It also tells us something about what law can and cannot do in responding to the horrors and complexities of war. In answering questions about a cultural monument’s destruction, a war crimes tribunal, in its own, autonomous way, turned a beautiful bridge into something very different.

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