Putting Spotlight on Balkan Justice Efforts

IWPR report on EU role in the former Yugoslavia said to contribute to reconciliation impetus.

Putting Spotlight on Balkan Justice Efforts

IWPR report on EU role in the former Yugoslavia said to contribute to reconciliation impetus.

Friday, 27 November, 2009

A special report on the European Union’s role in transitional justice in the Balkans, written by IWPR reporter Simon Jennings, has been recognised in the region as making an important contribution to the subject.

The report was published by IWPR on May15 and shortly after that a round-table discussion took place in Sarajevo to present the findings to a wider audience.

Several NGOs from the region who participated in this event agreed with the main finding of Jennings’s report, EU Urged to Boost Balkan Reconciliation Efforts, that the EU should play a greater role in fostering long-term peace, stability and reconciliation in the Western Balkans.

In this report, observers interviewed by Jennings said that while the EU had done much to bring justice to thousands of victims, the bloc was not doing enough to ensure lasting reconciliation and peace in the Balkans.

Edina Kamenica, a reporter with the Sarajevo-based Oslobodjenje daily, was one of the journalists covering IWPR's event in Sarajevo. Her paper also republished Jennings's report shortly after the conference.

“It is very important to talk about transitional justice in the Balkans. This subject, in many ways, concerns life of every single person in the region and we can all benefit from talking about it,” she said.

Kamenica singled out one problem that was discussed at IWPR's round table, which she found very intriguing – the attitude in the countries of the Balkans towards the facts established in the judgements delivered by the Hague tribunal.

She says her impression after this conference was that not just the governments of the countries in the region but NGOs as well are divided on whether these facts should be accepted as the truth about the wars in the former Yugoslavia. This, she said, became clear during IWPR's round-table discussion in Sarajevo at which different opinions were heard on this issue.

Kamenica praised IWPR for organising the conference on transitional justice which “provided a platform for all these different opinions to be expressed”.

As for Jennings's report, she said Oslobodjenje decided to republish it because “it is very important, primarily because of different angles, standpoints and opinions that were presented in it, which we can rarely find in local newspapers”.

Eldar Jahic, from the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center, RDC, also participated in the discussion held in Sarajevo.

“In my opinion, talking about transitional justice in a healthy and objective way is of huge importance for the future of the region. Victims have the right to find out the truth about crimes that took place,” he said.

“Talking frankly about the past is among the greatest challenges a post-conflict society can face, but it is part of transitional justice. Oblivion is not an acceptable alternative because sooner or later the events from the past will come back to haunt us if they are not dealt with now. Only a society that can face up to its past can prevent future conflicts.

“I am glad that at IWPR's round-table discussion we had an opportunity to discuss the importance of establishing the causes, not just the consequences, of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.”

He said he was pleasantly surprised with Jennings’ analysis on the EU's role in transitional justice in the Balkans, because “it indicates a more determined approach of the EU to this issue, which wasn't on top of its agenda so far”.

“The EU is gradually becoming aware of the fact that only the countries which found a way to deal with their past - through investigating and processing war crimes - can find their place in the union of European countries. The EU is also aware that the more stable the Balkans is, the more stable Europe will be, but they also have to help the countries in the region achieve that. Reconciliation is a process that can last for generations, and the least the EU can do is to help initiate it,” Jahic concluded.

Alma Dedic, from United Nations Development Programme’s Justice Department, also took part in IWPR's round-table discussion. She says events like this can certainly raise public awareness of the issue.

“It is important to talk about transitional justice in the Balkans, especially because this is not a subject that is sufficiently discussed in the region. Raising public awareness in that regard will certainly contribute to the processes of transitional justice in Bosnia and Hercegovina,” she said.

Observers in Serbia agree that talking about transitional justice is of huge importance for the whole region.

Bojan Toncic, a reporter with Serbia's largest electronic newspaper, E-novine (E-news), which also republished IWPR's special report, said, “Facing up to the past is a prerequisite for any further communication among the peoples who lived through the most horrible events in the European recent history.

“I don't think that people in the former Yugoslav countries are fully aware of what can happen if things are simply pushed under the carpet. The crimes that took place did not happen accidentally. We know the names of individuals who planned events that led to war crimes and some of them are still among us, holding high public positions. Some of them are considered heroes. Unfortunately, most young people in Serbia I interviewed talk about war crimes indifferently.

“Transitional justice is a process that takes a long time and Serbia hasn't expressed great interest in this issue so far. Denial is very much present in all segments of life in this country. We won't be able to talk about transitional justice in the region until Serbia makes some progress in accepting its own responsibility for the crimes that were committed in the Nineties.”

Toncic also singled out the IWPR report’s “very serious analytical approach of its author to this issue”.

“Such an approach is really valuable, primarily because there are so few serious people in our line of work who are dedicated to dealing with key problems the Balkans is faced with. IWPR's reports on war crimes trials and issues related to transitional justice are written very objectively and professionally,” Toncic said.

Sonja Biserko, president of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee in Serbia, which also posted Jennings’ analysis on its website, shares this opinion.

“IWPR is doing a very good job covering the process of transitional justice in the region, and I think it should continue reporting not just on judicial processes, but on the effects they have on the society as well,” she said.

“I regularly read IWPR reports and find them very useful because they provide a lot of valuable information. The Helsinki Human Rights Committee regularly posts these reports on its website because they offer a good overview of the trials they report on. IWPR articles are not just very informative, they are focused well and very objective.”

The Serbian Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights also posted the IWPR special report on its website, and its executive director, Milan Antonijevic, explained why, “Transitional justice is the only way to deal with the mass violations of human rights that occurred during the wars in the nineties. It is also important that this becomes a regional process, so that wars and mass violations of human rights don't occur again.

“We decided to post IWPR's special report on transitional justice because it was our estimate that the people who find it on our website will get an important insight into the process of transitional justice in the former Yugoslavia.”

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