Thousands of war crime suspects in the former Yugoslavia have not yet been prosecuted, a large number of cases are pending, while efforts to achieve justice are slowing down. This is just one of the conclusions of the report compiled by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, entitled “Dealing with the Past for a Better Future”.
“The current climate of denial of war crimes and glorification of war criminals is not conducive to effective national accountability. The protection of witnesses and amnesty laws remain ongoing challenges. One key impediment to justice is the minimal or non-existent judicial cooperation between certain countries, including their continued refusal to extradite their own nationals who continue to enjoy impunity, sometimes through holding dual nationality of countries of the region. This has resulted in an increase of trials in absentia, the impact of which is limited in terms of securing justice given that the perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity”, Mijatović writes in her report and adds:
„In addition to undermining efforts to deal with the past by denying atrocities and the glorification of war criminals, right-wing extreme nationalist groups in the region undermine respect for human rights more generally by promoting an exclusionary and discriminatory environment of toxic masculinity, LGBTI-phobia and racism through a discourse that aims to dehumanise the ‘other’. Some of these groups also show a profound rejection of feminism, gender equality and the right to abortion, partly because of their links to religion and religious institutions. The latter applies in particular to Serbia and Croatia.
Right-wing extreme nationalist groups maintain close ties with religious institutions, particularly in Serbia, and invoke religion and religious symbols in their activities. The fact that religious institutions do not unambiguously reject such extremist ideologies and their promoters contributes to their gaining legitimacy in the broader population.“
Speaking about numerous civilian victims never receiving any kind of compensation for their material losses or loss of family members, Mijatović says: „From the perspective of victims and survivors, reparations are essential for recognising the harm they suffered. States in the region should finally deliver on their international obligations and adopt comprehensive nondiscriminatory reparation programmes that would enable the rapid provision of effective reparations to all victims.“
As for the victims who suffered sexual violence during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the report states:“ Rehabilitation in the form of psychosocial support for victims and survivors also needs to be increased. The needs in the region are massive. Traumatic experiences and the resulting mental health problems can be an obstacle to people finding the energy to rebuild their lives and to become active citizens who demand their rights and mobilise for change.“
„The majority of the 3.7 to 4 million persons forcibly displaced during the wars in the 1990s have been able to return or have found reasonable alternatives. Regional cooperation in this field has been crucially important. Yet forcibly displaced persons still face several human rights issues that require attention. Almost three decades after the end of the wars, it is imperative to find a durable and dignified solution for displaced persons who still live in collective or temporary accommodation. The process of return and integration of refugees and internally displaced persons continues to be hampered by discrimination and local hostility in areas where they belong to the minority,“ Mijatović warns and adds:
„Another critical factor undermining processes for dealing with the past in the region is the failure of governments over the past decades to address the root causes of the wars. The focus on dealing with the crimes that were committed during the wars, while important, resulted in insufficient attention being paid to reforming the institutional structures and societal patterns that enabled these crimes to be committed in the first place. The consequences of this failure to conduct broader past-sensitive reforms continue to undermine democratic progress and peace in the region. Such root causes include unfair power sharing, clientelism and corruption. Ethnic discrimination has sometimes been further entrenched in the constitutions and legislation in the region. The weakness of and lack of public trust in state institutions remains a problem, including a culture of violence within institutions in the security sector.“
„The main responsibility rests with the states in the region and their representatives to provide an environment conducive to this important work, free from fear and dangerous propaganda and disinformation about the past,“ Mijatović concludes.
(Voice of America, 23.11.2023)
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