A new report by Impunity Watch entitled “Keeping the Promise: Addressing Impunity in the Western Balkans” finds that twenty years after the end of the conflict, impunity for the crimes committed in the 1990s is widespread and ingrained throughout the region. Measures taken in the area of transitional justice, such as prosecution, reparation, and institutional reform have by and large failed to tackle these structures of impunity. According to the report, to date, the Western Balkans continue to be a battleground of conflicting narratives, in which each side claims victimhood and blames the other for past abuses.
The findings of the report are sobering and should be seen as a wake-up call. If impunity is not addressed, it can again become a root cause for conflict.
Most importantly, the report reveals that Western Balkan states have done very poorly when it comes to victim participation in transitional justice processes. Victims’ voices have been marginalised and their rightful claims politicised by the different sides. This is a major shortcoming which needs to be addressed urgently.
According to the report, a key responsibility lies in the failure of the international community to translate clear policy commitments in the fight against impunity into viable change on the ground. Opportunities have been missed, for example, when it comes to the question of gender. To a large extent, instead of being transformative, reforms have been gender-blind and reproduced ‘old’ patterns and structures of violent and patriarchal masculinities. Impunity Watch will dedicate future reporting to this topic.
To address shortcomings in the fight against impunity, the report recommends a change of direction. It calls for the adoption of politically-informed approaches to fighting impunity, based on the needs of victims. Supporting the civil society-led Regional Commission (also called the RECOM initiative) within the Berlin Process would be an important indication of change. Partnering with civil society and strengthening regional civil society networks, including in the area of the missing are key for the way forward.
All of this is not new. A recently adopted EU policy framework on transitional justice (2015), calls for the exact same thing. It urges victim participation and context-specific approaches, as well as linking justice to development and security. So far, however, this commitment has not been implemented on the ground in the Western Balkans and knowledge about the policy remains alarmingly low. The report recommends, in this respect, that the EU’s transitional justice policy should be a driving force within the renewed enlargement strategy for the Western Balkans, adopted by the European Commission in 2018. Ending impunity should be a key priority in the accession processes in order to guarantee a peaceful future for the region.
Background to the report: The findings and recommendations in the report are based on an extensive interview process with a broad range of stakeholders from within the Western Balkans and beyond. The interviews were complemented by an in-depth desk review of existing documentation on transitional justice in Western Balkan states. In-country visits were conducted in the fall of 2017 to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, and Serbia. Initial drafts of the report were shared with various experts on transitional justice in a number of Western Balkan states, both local and international.
(published on impunitywatch, 25.5.2018.)