We greet you on behalf of the Regional Coalition for the Establishment of RECOM – a regional commission to establish the facts about the war crimes and other gross human rights violations perpetrated in the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001. The petition calling for the establishment of RECOM has been signed by 580,000 citizens from all post-Yugoslav countries. The idea was the result of more than three-and-a-half years’ worth of consultations between Balkan civil society actors and organizations, as well as direct dialogue with the region’s governments, presidents and/or members of presidencies. Its founding document, the Amendments to the RECOM Statute, was drafted by the states’ formal envoys to RECOM and adopted in its entirety by the RECOM Coalition at its 10th assembly on November 14th, 2014. Expectations were high at the time that a political agreement to establish RECOM would finally be reached. However, the whole process of establishing transitional justice in post-Yugoslav countries is now undergoing a serious crisis. There is absolutely no willingness in the region at present to prosecute war crimes, state institutions have not yet come close to becoming effective and independent, while all dialogue about the past has been pushed to the bottom of the regional cooperation agenda.
The right to truth, or the right to know the truth, is in serious jeopardy. One of the causes most certainly has to do with the EU’s vague and unclear support; and the arrests and extraditions of the Hague’s most prominent indictees – Ante Gotovina, Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, made possible in the first place by the EU’s previously more clear policy of conditionality in negotiations with membership candidate states, further confirm this claim. The EU has also decided to fund civil society projects involving government participation, but, at the same time, chosen not to take an active part in the dialogue between the region’s NGOs and governments, or impose a link between membership negotiations and the right to learn the truth.
On the other hand, a positive step was made by the Commissioner of the Council of Europe, who, in his report “Missing Persons and Victims of Forced Disappearances in Europe”, called on all the successor-states of the former Yugoslavia to assume ownership of the RECOM Initiative and take up its duties (the first among them being the responsibility to establish the commission formally), and ensure that all the information contained in the archives of their state and security services is made available to the public. However, this appeal lacked the necessary strength to unblock the political obstacles to the RECOM Process.
Two of RECOM’s main tasks, as defined by The Amendments to the RECOM Statute, are to create a registry of all persons (combatants and civilians alike) who lost their lives in connection with the wars of the nineties, and to document and map all wartime detention sites and prison camps.
While advocating for the establishment of the commission, the Coalition for RECOM has already begun empirical research into the human losses in connection with the wars of the nineties and the detention sites that operated in B&H during the war, in order to help the future Commission carry out its mandate to document wartime prison camps and shed light on the fate of each and every individual victim. As of December 31st, 2016, the Coalition has confirmed the identities and the circumstances of the deaths or disappearances of around 23,000 persons who lost their lives or went missing during the wars in Croatia and Kosovo (using a total of 56,000 documents, including some 17,000 witness statements and interviews with victims’ families). A total of 630 wartime detention sites and prison camps have been identified in B&H to date, where more than 170,000 people were imprisoned during the war – civilians, for the most part. The Coalition for RECOM has also created a central database of human losses. After a two-year evaluation process, in February of 2015 a team of experts in the statistical analysis of human rights violations in conflicts described it as “the most complete and reliable database [on war victims] in the world that we know of”.
In collaboration with the Humanitarian Law Center, the Research-Documentation Center has published the Bosnian Book of the Dead, containing the names of 96,000 victims of the war in B&H, while the Tribunal itself has established the identities of at least 12,000 victims of war crimes. This unequivocally shows that a large portion of the work on documenting war victims has been completed in the meantime, and that it is now up to the successor-states of the former SFRJ to finish the job, and in doing so contribute directly to the public acknowledgement of all victims.
The Coalition for RECOM calls on all the leaders of post-Yugoslav states to take full advantage of this historic opportunity and use it to create a regional registry of war victims, with as little delay as possible. At the very least, naming all the victims publicly makes a significant contribution towards guaranteeing the non-repetition of crimes, and provides a firm foundation for building peace and trust.
Incorporating the RECOM Initiative in the programme of the Berlin Process could also overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles spawned by Western Balkans leaders’ frequent and alarming (if not outright dangerous) attempts to evade the obligation to face and come to terms with their states’ violent pasts.
RECOM Initiative Public Advocates:
Dženana Karup Druško, B&H
Prof. Zdravko Grebo, PhD, B&H
Dino Mustafić, B&H
Prof. Žarko Puhovski, PhD, Croatia
Prof. Židas Daskalovski, PhD, Macedonia
Adriatik Kelmendi, Kosovo
Duško Vuković, Montenegro
Dinko Gruhonjić, PhD, Serbia