Architecture as Evidence
On 24 March 1999, the first day of NATO’s Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, several buildings were reported destroyed in Djakovica, a city located at the south western region of the country near the border with Albania. In early 1998, Djakovica was part of a territorial network used by the Kosovo Liberation Army to smuggle supplies and munitions from the south to its stronghold position in the region of Drenica Valley. Latter, by March 1999, under the control of Serbian police and Yugoslav militaries, the city became a gateway for transporting refugees to Albania. Because of Djakovica’s strategic location, it was one of the sites most heavily bombed by NATO’s airforce.
Two days after the start of the aerial attacks, the Yugoslav ministry of the interior stated that NATO bombs hit the old part of the Djakovica, causing fires that destroyed several buildings, most notably the Hadum Mosque Complex, a 16th century urban compound which was on the UNESCO list of protected monuments. Located in the old centre of the town, surrounded by Serbian military posts, the Hadum Mosque was literally placed in the middle of the conflict. On March 30th, NATO counter claimed releasing an aerial photograph of the area purporting to show evidence that the type of destruction was incompatible with aerial strike.
The 1st, 2nd and 4th Geneva Conventions of 1949 each contain an article defining the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” as a grave breach of the convention and hence as a war crime (see GC 1 Art. 50; GC 2 Art. 51, GC 3 Art. GC 4 Art. 147). Other articles forbid “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, …[and] historic monuments” (see Additional Protocol I to the GCs, Art 52, 53, 85). Because the protection of the built environment is bound to international law, a dispute over the production of evidentiary claims by means of architecture had emerged in both legal domains and the public sphere at large.
During the war, governmental bodies and professional institutions in Yugoslavia emitted reports claiming NATO responsibility for the destruction of several law-protected cultural and religious buildings in Kosovo. Similar allegations reverberated throughout the media. The Yugoslav committee of the International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) published a newsletter in March 1999 where NATO was accounted as responsible for the destruction of several monuments and architectural heritages in Kosovo. Immediately after the end of the conflict, the Serbian Government published the “White Book” titled “NATO Crimes in Yugoslavia” containing an archive collection of all non-military facilities allegedly destroyed by NATO.
While official statements coming from the Serbian government during the war attempt to assert NATO’s responsibility for the destruction of non-military facilities, media-accounts and refugee testimonies coming from the ground included several claims about Islamic religious buildings being intentionally destroyed by Serbian forces. In response to the overspread dissemination of the allegations of the Yugoslav governmental bodies in the public sphere, after the end of the armed conflicts in Kosovo in 1999, Harvard based librarian and art historian András Riedlmayer and architect Andrew Herscher started to work on a research titled “Kosovo Cultural Heritage Project”. In it they developed a large database of the wreckage of architectural heritage and mapped out the patterns of destruction in order to provide evidence to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where their report and Riedlmayer’s testimony in support of it were presented several times. The report findings concluded that practically all the cultural and religious buildings they have researched were destroyed or damaged by ground attacks rather then by air strikes. Out of the 607 mosques in Kosovo, 225 were damaged or destroyed, and only one mosque was reportedly destroyed as a result of NATO’s air strikes.
Albeit clearly misleading, the Serbian government’s public statements shows how architecture had gained a prominent role in substantiating legal and public claims during and after the conflict.
This video shows Slobodan Milosevic’s cross-examination of Andras Ridlemeyer’s expert testimony in The Hague in April 2002. The footage was assembled with material gathered from the Milosevic Trial Public Archive hosted by Bard Colege Human Rights Project. The exchange conversation between Milošević, who represented himself, and Riedlmayer, on the witness stand, revolved around the question of whether the building was destroyed by a stray NATO bomb or by Serbian paramilitaries. The prosecution sought to demonstrate that small calibre shells fired by a Serbian armed unit hit the Hadum Mosque, that this shelling decapitated the solid stone minaret, which in turn fell over the roof of the adjacent building which also collapsed. Milošević claimed that the destruction was caused by a stray group of NATO bombs aimed at a near by Serbian military base. He doesn’t provide evidence to corroborate this claim, but continuously questioned Riedlmayer’s expertise to speak on behalf of the rubble, which cannot speak for itself. Issues of mediation were thus at the centre of this controversy, from the speech of things to the language of humans, measured and contested against scientific expertise.
The trial chamber is a carefully designed environment whereby legal procedures are indexed in spatial codes. The judges, the prosecution, the defence, and the witness – are placed in a very deliberate manner facing both video screens and each other. Procedures of justice are embodied in the very architectural arrangement of the courtroom, thus the spatiality of the legal forum turns out to be a medium through which legislative practices gain certain material dimension. It is necessary, therefore, to enquire into the cultural and political implications of the ways by which the material conditions of court subtly – but nevertheless effectively – influences legal processes beyond the supposed neutrality of spatial arrangements. Moreover, the courtroom is a complex media apparatuses, employing several devices of translation and mediation between people and things.
The idea of a “mediation device” is all the more important considering the way in which the evidence is presented and exhibited. For how does the testimony of buildings can become culturally, legally and politically meaningful? Because the legal controversy in question is specifically concerned with spatial matters, the traditional tools of architecture’s language start to interact with the grammar of law. During his testimony, Andras Ridlemeyer employs a map to trace the territorial logic of destruction and presents an archive containing more than 200 entries to analyse the ways in which buildings were destroyed. His testimony tentatively engages with forensic techniques that are used as mediators between the object around which a controversy unfolds and the forum wherein the debate takes place.
Forensic Architecture, as we have expanded the meaning of the term, is a form of legal-spatial practice that seeks to develop methodologies for interrogating the history inscribed in the material artefacts, and that at the same time is concerned with the design of techniques, and the conception of the very forum, that can render the speech of the built environment politically audible.
During the trial in ICTY, the forensic analysis of the rubble appears in the form of a technical report. The “form report” enters the court through the character of the “expert witness”, the subject who is entitled to speak in the name of things – in that case, buildings – it is through the object that this subject assumes the position of a witness. What does the particular lay out of the rubble, the very “architecture of the rubble”, can say about the event of which it is the resultant form? Could its reading be complex, contradictory, and in excess of the law?
Holding on to the legitimacy of rational enquire, “to report” is a process of mediation which validity is measured against levels of technical precision. The research presented by Riedlmeyer reveals how procedures of justice exceed the space of the law, embodying a set of knowledge/technologies not traditionally represented as part of the court yet crucial for the (re) construction of a fact in dispute. The point that Milošević repeatedly contests in Riedlmeyer’s testimony is precisely the space of mediation between the ruins of the buildings and the history to which the rubble is the witness, for he constantly says — “Can you speak in the name of the rubble?” As architecture starts enter the legal forums as an evidence of legal violations, the processes and methodologies that mediates architecture’s testimony start to open up a new spatial, legal and aesthetic arena that now calls for cultural intervention and political engagement.
Visualisation by Situ Studio / Forensic Architecture