Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Representatives of non-governmental organisations from Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo gathered at the event in Belgrade to discuss the European Union’s approach to Balkan justice.
They focused, in particular, on so-called Hague conditionality – the term referring to the pressure that the EU applies on countries in the region to fully cooperate with the Hague tribunal in return for being allowed to progress towards accession.
They criticised the EU for failing to establish a comprehensive strategy to promote truth-seeking and reconciliation in the region.
Natasa Kandic, executive director of the HLC, told the conference that the EU should put pressure on local governments not only to secure the arrest of the remaining fugitives and supply missing documents, but also to make them understand the importance of using the justice system to secure lasting peace and reconciliation.
As one of the speakers pointed out, the lack of a wider strategy to promote reconciliation in the Balkans has unfortunately prevented the judgements of the Hague tribunal from being widely accepted in the region.
In her presentation, International Justice/ICTY project manager Merdijana Sadovic focused on the effects the work of the Hague tribunal has had on the reconciliation process in the Balkans
She stressed that the power of the EU’s policy of conditionality should not be underestimated, despite its shortcomings.
Sadovic argued that since the EU started applying pressure on the Balkan countries to arrest and extradite war crimes suspects, all but two of the remaining fugitives had been handed over to The Hague.
This month, IWPR also established a closer relationship with the media department of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, in Belgrade.
Several possible joint projects were discussed, such as training for Serbian journalists in The Hague and a regional conference for the local media editors to look at coverage of war crimes issues throughout the former Yugoslavia.
The OSCE expressed interest in translating IWPR’s handbook for journalists, Reporting Justice, into the Serbian language. They believe this would help reporters who don’t speak English to become acquainted with the basics of professional court reporting.
It is also helping with the dissemination of the project’s weekly radio programme Facing Justice, and has offered it to a dozen radio stations in Serbia with whom it already cooperates.
All of these radio stations – which together have an audience of about one million people in Serbia alone – have expressed an interest in Facing Justice and some of them have already started broadcasting it this month.
On February 20, IWPR published Velma Saric’s article Bosnian War Crimes Justice Plan Questioned, on criticism levelled at the Bosnian government’s plan to prosecute almost 10,000 war crimes cases pending in the country within the next 15 years.
The strategy document, which was adopted in December 2008 by the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, states that all existing war crimes cases labeled as “priority” should be processed within the next seven years, while the remaining cases should be completed eight years after that.
However, reaction to the initiative has been mixed – with some people saying it’s impossibly ambitious, and others, mainly victims, arguing that 15 years is too long to wait for justice.
Saric, a young IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo, says she was particularly interested in the victims’ opinion on this new strategy, because they are the party most interested in seeing justice being served.
Preparing this article, she talked to members of six different victims’ associations – from genocide survivors, to former detainees, to raped women and families of missing persons.
“They were all very unhappy with the timeframe envisaged in this strategy for processing war crimes cases. In their opinion, 15 years is way too long,” said Saric.
The strategy – which Bosnia had to adopt in order to continue on its path towards European integration – was prepared by prosecutors and court officials, as well by a number of local and international officials and legal experts.
However, victims’ groups say they were not consulted.
“The victims were very disappointed that they were not invited to be in working groups creating the strategy. They also think it was a mistake that the Hague tribunal wasn’t consulted either, despite its huge experience in prosecuting war crimes,” said Saric.
“I think that, in general, the victims are very dissatisfied with this strategy.”
She said that, on the other hand, legal and political experts monitoring war crimes trials in Bosnia took the opposite view.
“They all agreed that a timeframe of 15 years to complete these cases was too short and unrealistic,” she said.
She said that while she was working on this story, she came to realise that the public did not really know much about the state strategy for processing war crimes.
That is why it would be good to organise a round-table discussion on this issue, that would shed some light on all aspects of this strategy, said Saric.
“It is normal that [some] people expected more from this document, but...no-one is preventing us from discussing the possible changes to the strategy and implementing them in due course.
“Prosecuting war crimes cases is a great challenge both for the Bosnian State Court and for society. When I was working on this story, I realised that the way these important questions are addressed will influence the future of this country and the whole region.”
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