European Politics and Institutions

Balkans Forum

Dealing with the past: justice and reconciliation in the Western Balkans

5 May 2011

The idea for an initiative to deal with the recent violent past of the former Yugoslavia came from human rights organisations in the region, said Nataša Kandić, Founder and Executive Director of the Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade. The result of a three-year consultation across the region is a document establishing the model of a regional commission (RECOM) to record the names of all people killed in the war.

Now the statute for RECOM has been adopted, there is a new challenge - to transfer the process from civil society to governments - to convince them that the establishment of a regional commission is a state obligation. A public petition has been organised to show public support for the initiative.

Pierre Mirel, Director for the Western Balkans at DG Enlargement, European Commission, said that the European Commission is supporting the RECOM initiative by formal recognition in the Commission’s annual enlargement strategy document, and by financial support for the most important NGOs that prepared the initiative.

Support has been provided because the Commission believes that transitional justice leading to reconciliation cannot be achieved through trials alone. Equally important in facing the past is the role of civil society initiatives - although the state should take ownership of the process. The process has to be owned from the top and the bottom.

Iavor Rangelov, Global Security Research Fellow at the London School of Economics Global Governance and Co-chair of the London Transitional Justice Network, said that the process in the Western Balkans had contributed to the changing understanding of transitional justice globally.

Most contemporary conflicts are regional and have strong transnational and trans-border dimensions, but justice responses have been very much nationally framed. RECOM is a process that captures very well the need for regional mechanisms of justice. It is a bottom-up process, indicative of a huge demand for truth seeking in the Balkans.

Tanja Fajon, Member of the European Parliament, said that the RECOM initiative is very important for the region. If people are unable to talk to one another it is very difficult to work for a common future. This is why visa liberalisation is important - young people needed to know what is happening outside the region.

At a time when the EU faces economic and financial problems it is difficult for those supporting the enlargement process, but it is important for peace and stability in the region. It is vital that EU institutions present a clear vision of the European perspective and encourage countries to follow the path of reform.

In this programme