“The lasting impact of the serious human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia needs to be fully addressed”

Sarajevo, 19/03/2012 – “Inter-ethnic reconciliation, social cohesion and durable peace in the region of the former Yugoslavia cannot be achieved without the states fully addressing the consequences of the serious human rights violations suffered by thousands of victims during the wars in the 1990s. The remaining challenges require wise vision and determined political leadership. Peace and stability in the region should be firmly grounded in the principles of human rights and the rule of law” said Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting in Sarajevo a paper on post-war justice in the former Yugoslavia.

The paper analyses and sets out recommendations on four major components of post-war justice: measures for the elimination of impunity; the provision of adequate and effective reparation to all war victims; the need to establish and recognise the truth concerning gross human rights violations; and institutional reforms to effectively prevent repetition of past events.

“Despite efforts and progress achieved, the legacy of the violent recent past still dangerously lingers across the region of the former Yugoslavia” said the Commissioner. “Impunity for wartime crimes has not been eliminated, and there are still some 13 500 missing persons whose fates have not yet been clarified. Thousands of women who have suffered sexual violence remain without adequate assistance. There are also approximately 438 000 refugees and other displaced persons whose legitimate claims for reparation have not yet been met. In addition, the situation of about 18 000 persons in the region who are stateless or at risk of statelessness, especially Roma, poses serious human rights and humanitarian concerns that need to be addressed and solved in compliance with agreed European and international standards”.

The Commissioner stresses the fundamental importance of establishing efficient national judicial systems in the region’s countries in order not only to reinforce the rule of law, but also to increase the necessary public trust in the judiciary and strengthen the prevention of human rights violations.

Fair and durable solutions should be agreed upon by states to end the protracted displacement of refugees and other displaced persons. Women who have suffered wartime sexual violence remain in a particularly vulnerable position and deserve stronger support by the states concerned.

Public acknowledgment of the facts and acceptance of responsibility can be an important form of satisfaction that contributes to the reparation of the serious harm suffered by war victims. The Commissioner welcomes the steps taken so far, not least by the Croatian and Serbian Presidents, to recognise wartime crimes and the need to establish and recognise the truth. “Recognition of past atrocities by state officials leads to changes in people’s attitudes and helps reconciliation. Public awareness-raising campaigns are also necessary to establish durable peace and social cohesion in the region”.

The Commissioner expresses his support to the efforts made so far to establish and recognise the truth for the human rights and international humanitarian law violations that occurred during the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and calls for more determined political engagement in this field. “Efforts have been seriously hampered by persistent ethnic polarisation and divisions among politicians and populations. The region’s states should support the establishment of a regional truth and reconciliation commission and provide it with the necessary human and financial resources to operate effectively”.

Lastly, the Commissioner recommends an overhaul of the educational systems of the states in the region so that they promote genuine knowledge of history and tolerance and trust between the peoples, especially the younger generation, and counter ethnic polarisation and discrimination.

Further reading: Commissioner’s thematic webpage on post-war justice in the region of former Yugoslavia

Press contact in the Commissioner’s Office:
Stefano Montanari, +33 (0)6 61 14 70 37; stefano.montanari@coe.int

Keep up to date with the Commissioner on Twitter