Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

NGOs Demand Truth-Telling Body

Regional conference participants appeal for international funding to set up organisation to research war crimes.
Rights groups say they want to create a regional body to establish precisely how many people were killed during the Balkans wars of the 1990s.

At the third Regional Forum on Mechanisms of Truth-seeking and Truth-telling about War Crimes Committed in the Former Yugoslavia held in Belgrade on February 11, the Documentation and Research Centre from Sarajevo, the Centre for Facing the Past from Zagreb, and Serbia’s Humanitarian Law Fund requested funding from abroad to help them realise their dream.

“These recommendations should be sent immediately to national governments, parliaments and the EU and UN institutions. This initiative will require strong international support, because local governments will not be able to deal alone with all the obstacles they face," said Natasa Kandic of the Humanitarian Law Fund.

The conference heard that the region would never know lasting democracy and peace until the full truth about the crimes was revealed.

Kandic said a full list of the war’s victims in Bosnia had been compiled, and that the groups were now working on equivalent lists for Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Kosovo.

“We will work on the list of victims from Kosovo killed after 2000, because it is clear that this number is relevant,” she added.

“It is very important to know what happened in Vukovar, in Prijedor, in Knin, in Istok. The war crimes map was as big as Yugoslavia was.”

Mirsad Tokaca, from the Documentation and Research Centre in Sarajevo, said that between 1991 and 1995 in Bosnia 97,207 people were killed - 57,523 of them were soldiers and approximately 10,000 of them women.

He said his group had tried to ascertain the complete identity of every victim and thus to stop speculation about the number of people killed in the war, which can often be motivated by political reasons.

“Domestic calculations were of 150,000 to 300,000 victims. Foreign calculations were of 25,000 to 150,000 people killed. With this research we have stopped speculation and we upheld the dignity of the victims. It doesn’t matter whether they were civilians or soldiers,” he said.

In clashes in Kosovo between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army from 1998 to the end of 2000, approximately 11,000 to 14,000 people were killed. According to the Red Cross, 2,040 people disappeared.

Sandra Orlovic, from the Humanitarian Law Fund, said that the former Yugoslav states did not recognise the need to create a list of all the victims of the war. However, she added that her organisation would publish a “Kosovo memory book” in January next year.

“Up to now 4,650 witnesses and family members of the victims have spoken to our researchers. We have the biggest problem with family members of the victims who were policemen,” said Orlovic.

The organisers of the conference also brought in war crimes victims to speak of their suffering to show that there were victims from every nation in Yugoslavia.

Participants heard painful accounts of how individuals had suffered in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, when Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Kosovo Albanians fought over territory, often committing appalling atrocities.

Smail Duraković from Vlasenica in Bosnia said Serbian soldiers in black uniforms and white eagles on the black berets captured his village in 1992. They interrogated him several times and then raped his wife in front of him, before sending him to a camp in Susica.

Although a Serbian soldier nicknamed Car told him his wife was alive, and that they had sent her to Kladanj and on to Germany, it turned out to be a lie.

Durakovic said his wife was murdered in September 1992, and the soldiers turned his house into a brothel.

“Today, I live alone and I’m very ill,” he said. “I hope this will be an example for the future and we can learn something from this experience. I know the man who killed my wife, but I don’t want revenge.”

Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

More IWPR's Global Voices