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Failure to Confront Wartime Past Imperils Peace in Balkans: Council of Europe

A Council of Europe report said that ex-Yugoslav states’ failure to fully confront war crimes continues to affect people’s human rights and warned that a resurgence of ethno-nationalism could threaten the peace.

The failure to “fully confront” war crimes and the root causes of the 1990s conflicts continues to have devastating consequences for respect for human rights, the rule of law and social cohesion in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner Dunja Mijatovic said in a report published on Thursday.

Almost three decades after the end of the Yugoslav wars, with victims, witnesses and suspects ageing and dying, and with less and less available evidence, criminal prosecutions for wartime crimes are becoming more difficult, Mijatovic explained in the report entitled ‘Dealing with the Past for a Better Future’.

“Time is running out to achieve effective justice, compensation and truth for the victims,” she said.

“The prosecution for war crimes, the search for missing persons and the provision of compensation to victims have recently slowed down or stagnated mainly due to a lack of political will,” she added.

She said that backtracking in the process of dealing with the past “coincides with negative trends in the field of human rights” such as an increase in hate speech, genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals.

“It ultimately threatens the hard-won peace,” she warned.

Mijatovic pointed out that “ethno-nationalist discourse” has been “reinvigorated” in the region, seriously hindering efforts towards reconciliation.

She accused politicians, media, religious leaders and public figures of spreading “harmful narratives”.

“Narratives and actions that cause division and hatred have become a general political strategy, including around elections, and are dangerously undermining efforts to prevent the recurrence of violence,” she said.

The search for missing persons, which helps to establish the truth about the 1990s wars, has slowed down in the last few years, even though 9,876 people are still missing, the report noted.

Numerous civilian victims of the war in the region are still without effective access to adequate reparations, and none of the former Yugoslav countries have adopted comprehensive reparation programmes in line with United Nations guidelines, the report said.

Mijatovic added that other key measures, such as establishing truth and reconciliation commissions, vetting public officials and inclusive memorialisation, have also not been implemented.

She argued that cooperation between ex-Yugsolav states is of key importance in dealing with the past, and called for a revival of efforts aimed at justice and reconciliation, with a victim-oriented approach and zero tolerance for denials of genocide and the incitement of hatred towards other ethnic groups.

She also stressed the intergenerational importance of dealing with the past, calling for more youth engagement and ethnically integrated education systems and history lessons.

“It is crucial to strengthen political and financial support for a strong and resilient civil society working on transitional justice. Civil society is currently the best hope for a better future based on human rights and the rule of law,” she said.

Source : Balkan Insight