The Seventh Regional Forum for Transitional Justice: There Can Be No Reconciliation without the Voice of the Victims

Zagreb, Croatia
October 17, 2010
The Seventh Regional Forum for Transitional Justice ended with the conclusion of participants that the activity of the future regional commission must be based in three core principles: the ability of victims to voluntarily approach, the mandatory cooperation of states, and the independence of body of RECMO- the Regional Commission for Establishing the Facts about War Crimes Committed on the Territory of the former Yugoslavia.
On the second day of the Forum organized on behalf of the Coalition for RECOM by the organization Documenta from Zagreb, reports from the Working Groups on the Draft RECOM Statute and RECOM Media and Advocacy were presented to participants. In this presentation, participants were given the opportunity to share their suggestions and recommendations concerning certain articles of the Statute, as well as offer their opinions regarding the media campaign and other public advocacy events.
In addition, participants of the Forum received an update on the “One Million Signatures” Campaign aimed at supporting the Initiative for RECOM, which is expected to be implemented in the spring of 2011. When this campaign is over, the Coalition for RECOM will submit its proposals for the creation of RECOM, including the Draft RECOM Statute governing the work of the commission and the one million signatures from citizens who support the initiative, to parliaments in the region for their adoption.
On the first day of the Forum victims and witnesses to war crimes in Croatia, Marija Lovrić, Ivan Pšenica, Jovan Beić, Ljiljana Alvir, Dragan Pjevač, and Vesna Levar, all testified about their experiences with war crimes committed in Vukovar, Osijek, Varivode, Medak Pocket, and Gospić.
The President of the Republic of Croatia, Ivo Josipović, supported the idea to create RECOM, stating that without the voice of the victims there could be no reconciliation in the region. “The history of this region is a difficult one. We should all be ashamed of the things that happened in this region. The politics I advocate is the politics of reconciliation. There can be no progress unless the facts are established and those who broke all laws during the war are punished. However, we are often focusing on perpetrators while victims are being forgotten. We have to hear the victims, too, if we want the reconciliation process to begin in this region,” said Josipović. President Josipović also added that the Initiative for the creation of RECOM is part of an effort to provide some satisfaction to the victims and to undo the injustice inflicted upon them.
Croatian Vice President Slobodan Uzelac also offered his support to the Initiative for RECOM. Mr. Uzelac said at the Seventh Forum that RECOM can count on the support of the executive government in Croatia.
At the Forum the Initiative was also supported by Tanja Fajon, member of the European Parliament from Slovenia. To date, political support for the Initiative for RECOM has also been offered by Serbian President Boris Tadić, the Parliament of Montenegro, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. The opening of the Forum was attended by members of the Parliaments of the Republic of Montenegro, FYR of Macedonia, the Republic of Croatia, and Slovenia, as well as former president of the Republic of Croatia of Stjepan Mesić.
Vesna Teršelič, director of the non-governmental organization Documenta from Zagreb, said that the region of the former Yugoslavia has no future unless the facts about the wars of the 1990s are established. “Learning the facts about war crimes is our way to a future without fear that these crimes will happen again,” said Teršelič.
She added that there are over 15,000 missing persons in the region and that over 120,000 people lost their lives in the wars of the 1990s. “It is our obligation to act together and establish the facts about all victims from the wars waged in the 1990s,” said Teršelič, assessing that there is more political will today to create RECOM than a couple of years ago.
“We have learned from the experiences of others and created our regional initiative. We have managed to sit down and work on creating a sense of compassion with the victims. Our obligation towards the victims and future generations is to create a climate of compassion with the victims in which it would be impossible for such crimes to happen again,” said Nataša Kandić, Executive Director of Humanitarian Law Center from Belgrade.
She explained that the Initiative for RECOM was started for the purpose of establishing a body which would focus on the victims. “We want to establish the facts, not to change the personal truths of people, because the fact is that everybody is entitled to their own truth. We want to hear different interpretations of a past which would be based on facts,” said Kandić. She added that a “culture of compassion” with the victims of the war is a prerequisite for the creation of the democratic future of the region.
The Mayor of the town of Vukovar, Croatia, Željko Sabo, said that it would make him very happy if it turned out that the societies in the region were ready to create RECOM. In a very emotional speech Mr. Sabo said that he himself was a victim of the recent war. “I have forgiven, but I cannot forget. Victims do not hate anyone, they just suffer,” said Sabo.
Žarko Puhovski, Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, said that the Initiative will “find itself in a sandwich” between politicians who do not want to cause too much “commotion” among their voters on the one hand, and a number of indifferent citizens on the other.
The consultation process on the Initiative for RECOM will continue in the upcoming period, with the Eigth Regional Forum for Transitional Justice scheduled to be held in February 2011.