Rule of law must be based on justice

Centre for Civic Education (CCE), regarding today released comment of the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe Nils Muižnieks on establishing justice and reconciliation in the former Yugoslavia, recalls that ensuring justice for the victims and dealing with the war past has to be a priority in the process of democratization of the post-Yugoslav societies.

The commentary (Justice and reconciliation long overdue in the Balkans) concluded that 20 years after the wars that led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the legacy of violence still lingers across the region. Official statistics show that more than 12 000 people are still missing, 423 000 refugees and displaced persons are still unable to return to their homes, and around 20,000 people are still stateless or in danger of becoming so. In addition, at least 20 000 women who were subjected to sexual violence in war has not yet received adequate support, which, as assessed by Commissioner Muižnieks, combined with impunity for war crimes, hampers reconciliation and endangers the full enjoyment of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

CCE, through its independent actions or with partners for years indicates the risks coming from the systemic non dealing with the past, as well as deliberate prolonging of trials in cases of war crimes. War crimes do not expire, and no matter for how long being pushed under the rug, unresolved issues from the war from 90s keep returning. Therefore, it is necessary to build a strong mechanism that will make the current generations as well future ones are able to finally liberate themselves of heavy burden from war history, that afflict our, and the societies in the region for decades.

The commentary also states that countries in the region have a moral and legal obligation to shed light on the fate of missing persons, to bring to the justice perpetrators of crimes, but also continuously provide support to those who have suffered the most. In this process it is necessary to have strong regional cooperation, which has to be constantly improved, although some very important steps towards effective dialogue and reconciliation between states could be seen. Together with states, a very important role is played by other actors and mechanisms, among which Commissioner Muižneks points out the RECOM Initiative which aims to establish the facts about war crimes, assessing that this initiative has improved understanding the process of reconciliation among the nations in the region.

He concludes that the process of dealing with the past in the Western Balkans can’t be longer postponed, because reconciliation has to come through justice, and CCE in this context will continue to advocate for the establishment of the Regional Commission for establishing the facts about war crimes and other serious human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia (RECOM), but also to insist on the prosecution of war crimes and bringing justice for the victims, as the only way to ensuring a lasting peace and a stable future.

Mirela Rebronja, Programme coordinator