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

Special Report Launched in Balkans

Local NGOs agree with observers quoted in piece that trials alone are not enough to secure lasting stability in region.
By Ivan Katavic

The European Union should play a greater role in fostering long-term peace, stability and reconciliation in the Western Balkans – this was the main conclusion of a round-table discussion on transitional justice, which IWPR held in Sarajevo on May 19.

Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia, HCHR, and the Research and Documentation Center, RDC, took part in the event held to launch IWPR's special report about the EU's role in transitional justice.

EU Urged to Boost Balkan Reconciliation Efforts by Simon Jennings was published on the IWPR site on May 15.

In the 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.

This week’s discussion, held at the Faculty of Criminal Justice Sciences in Sarajevo, was part of IWPR's efforts to draw further attention to this important issue.

“Although the EU has had an important role in bringing justice to the victims of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, it needs to do much more in terms of fostering wider reconciliation and stability in the region,” said Merdijana Sadovic, project manager of IWPR's International Justice/ICTY Programme, presenting Jennings' report at the conference.

“Apart from criminal prosecutions, transitional justice includes many other mechanisms, such as reparations, truth-finding, institutional reforms and vetting. All these mechanisms combined can help a post-conflict society face up to its past and turn to the future.”

Sadovic also pointed out that so far, the EU has focused its efforts mainly on its so-called Hague conditionality policy – or conditioning the progress of ex-Yugoslav countries towards joining the union on their full co-operation with the Hague tribunal.

Although this strategy has been highly effective in terms of securing the delivery of indictees to the Hague tribunal for trial, it hasn’t contributed much to promote reconciliation or long-term stability in the region, she said.

NGOs who attended this week’s event spoke of transitional justice activities they are involved in.

Alma Dedic, from the UNDP's Justice Department, said that UNDP is currently holding consultations on transitional justice in local communities, and the latest round took place in the northern Bosnian town of Brcko at the end of April.

“Fourteen focus groups have been included in these consultations – from religious communities, to victims' associations, refugees, judicial institutions, social workers and members of the government, media, and academia,” said Dedic, addressing the conference.

According to her, special attention has to be paid to the victims of war, whether they were civilians or members of armed forces during the conflict.

She said that apart from criminal prosecutions, truth-finding, institutional reforms and reparations are also a very important transitional justice mechanisms, and more has to be done in regard to these.

One local transitional justice initiative is RECOM - a regional commission for establishing the facts about war crimes and other serious human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia, launched a few years ago.

The initiative has brought together victims’ groups and other non-government organisations to discuss the Balkans’ conflicts in an effort to engage the region’s political leaderships in dialogue about facing the events of the past.

Aleksandra Letic from the Bosnian branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, which is taking part in RECOM, says that much fieldwork is being done in order to decide which direction to take.

“We still don't know what the mandate of this commission would be, how its members would be elected, [or] what powers it would have,” Letic told the conference in Sarajevo.

“But I have to emphasise that victims' associations in the region will have the last word on this commission. We need their support.”

Ivan Katavic is an RFE reporter and IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.

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