Post-war justice and reconciliation in the region of former Yugoslavia

The dissolution of the former Yugoslavia was accompanied by three major wars: in Croatia (1991-1995), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1992-1995) and Kosovo* (1998-1999). In addition, there were two smaller-scale, shorter conflicts in Slovenia (June-July 1991) and in “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (January-August 2001). These conflicts were marked by gross human rights violations, including ‘ethnic cleansing’ and atrocities unseen in Europe since World War II.

The legacy of this violent past still lingers across the region of former Yugoslavia endangering the full enjoyment of human rights, democracy and rule of law. The return to normalcy has been slow and major obstacles remain. The lack of a systematic approach across the region to tackle past gross human rights violations has resulted in impunity and the erosion of rule of law. Concerning war-related criminal proceedings, witness protection systems remain limited in their capacity and reportedly fail to inspire confidence and trust among existing and potential witnesses. War victims do not have access to adequate, effective or proportionate reparation for the harms they have suffered.

There is also a lack of a comprehensive regional mechanism to establish and recognise the truth about the gross human rights violations perpetrated by all sides during the wars. In this context, some 13,500 cases of missing persons as a result of the wars remain unresolved. This is a major prerequisite to any genuine process of reconciliation in the region. In his Human Rights Comment on the subject the Commissioner suggested steps which need to be taken by the authorities in the region to accelerate this process.

More than 400,000 refugees and other displaced persons from the 1990s are still waiting for durable solutions. A fair resolution of these pending issues is crucial in order to achieve ethnic reconciliation and social cohesion. The Commissioner has visited collective centres for refugees and internally displaced persons and provided recommendations to national authorities on how they could find durable solutions for these people. He has also emphasised the need for states in the region to accelerate efforts to clear the extensive areas still contaminated by landmines and cluster munitions.

The Commissioner has noted the plight of a significant number of stateless persons in, or from, the region - many of whom are Roma. He recommends that the countries that have not done so accede to the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and to the 2006 Council of Europe Convention on the Avoidance of Statelessness in relation to State succession.

During his country visits and continuous dialogue with national authorities and civil society, the Commissioner takes note of the progress achieved. He also identifies obstacles to the effective resolution of the pending issues concerning post-war justice and reconciliation and provides advice on ways to ensure the respect for human rights and thereby durable peace in the region of former Yugoslavia.

* "All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo."