Thursday, June 2, 2011

Transitional Justice in Frmr Yugoslavia

I had the opportunity to meet with the Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) today in Belgrade, Serbia. Since 1992, when it was founded, and when Yugoslavia was beginning to fall apart in what would be about a decade of bloodshed and ethnic cleansing culminating in NATO's mission in Kosovo, the HLC has been working to drive truth and reconciliation efforts. As I learned in my transitional justice class, truth and reconciliation is a core mechanism for post-conflict societies and a mechanism that has not been pursued formally by the parties involved in the conflict. The HLC has been on a much needed mission to change that with great successes.

For sure there's the ICTY, which like the Rwanda tribunal, was set up as a precursor to the ICC and continues to operate, as demonstrated by the recent arrest of Mladic. But what I have learned over the past day or so in Belgrade is that Serbia, the aggressor in the Yugoslav wars during the '90's, is not and has not done anything on a societal-wide basis to account for its actions during the wars with its neighbors. Prior to the meeting with HLC, I met with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, who confirmed that in today's Serbs schools, youngsters do not learn about Milsovic, Srebrenica, Kosovo, etc, a seemingly first step towards taking responsibility for one's tragic past. Unlike Germany, which is perhaps the model for how best to address a society's fractured past, Serbia does not see its past in a negative light. In fact, it believes it was in the right to carry out the conflict, that it did no wrong, and that all actions were justified. The political will to challenge this belief does not exist, and clearly, the people of Serbia do not believe there's any need to put pressure on their politicians to take a formal approach at addressing the country's recent past.

I asked the woman if the EU would use TJ as an additional condition for Serbia to achieve membership in the EU and she said that would not happen. With the arrest of Mladic, the question of whether or not the issues surrounding Kosovo would hamper Serbia's rise to EU membership seems unanswered at the present time. Outside of that, for the EU to accept other nations, it would seem logical that the EU would apply some pressure to instill in Serbia the need to recognize its past wrongs and strive to build an informed population about the need for tolerance of minorities. While Serbia will have to meet a number of requirements to achieve their goal of membership, if the West sees itelf as the carrier of all values and a home for the oppressed to seek shelter, then accepting a country into a framework brought about as a result of WWII would be acceptable under one condition: that the country in question embraces such values and open its doors to all, including Muslim, Roma, Jews, and others who originate from a different ethnic/racial/religious background.

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