News

On the Topic of International Commissions: RECOM Is the Priority

19.02.2019

Although the facts regarding the number of victims in the 1990s wars are now known, even as much as 27 years after the beginning of the wars, not a single state from the former Yugoslavia has created a nominal list of their human losses. The identities and circumstances of the deaths of at least 15,000 victims of war have been determined by The Hague Tribunal, with national courts identifying at least another 5,000 victims and the circumstances of their deaths. The institutions of the states in the region possess records of the casualties in the armed forces. Victims associations also possess significant information on the victims. Human rights organizations, gathered in the Coalition for RECOM, have assembled the relevant documentation, and, on the basis of empirical research, determined the identities and circumstances of death for around 20,000 war victims. If so much has been done, and if civic society has for ten years been pushing for the creation of a Regional Commission Tasked with Establishing the Facts about All Victims of War Crimes and Other Serious Human Rights Violations Committed on the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia from 1991 to 2001 (RECOM), why does Republika Srpska favour international commissions?

First, about the idea of “international commissions” in Republika Srpska. The proposers have overlooked the experience of The Hague Tribunal: that the UN has spent millions of dollars on the translation of statements and documents, as well as on interpreters, because the prosecutors, judges and other staff did not speak the BCS language. For that reason alone, every paper was translated into English (and a large number also into French), and the trials lasted at least five years longer, and as a consequence numerous victims did not live to see justice.

More importantly than the costs, one should address the idea (or decision) of the Republika Srpska Government to establish two “international commissions”. One of the reasons is the alleged reduction of the number of Serb victims. Supposedly, the true number of Serb victims in Sarajevo is significantly greater than the list published by the Research and Documentation Center (RDC) and Dani magazine;[1] and also, the truth about the total victims in Srebrenica during the period from 1992 to 1995, especially Serb victims, remains unknown. Negative reactions have flooded the region. The greatest suspicion is that Republika Srpska is actually trying to “amend” the legal decisions of The Hague Tribunal pertaining to Srebrenica, by way of an international commission on Srebrenica, and to “prove” that genocide was not committed.

It is my opinion that too much public attention has been focused on the initiative, which even if it results in the establishment of an international commission on Srebrenica, cannot produce legal consequences. Countless truth commissions have been established around the world, but none have been granted judicial powers. Of course, if anyone does discovers new facts, they are required to present them to the competent institutions, but any new fact that would, hypothetically, be discovered by an “international commission” does not give it the power to amend legal decisions. No commission can change the fact adopted by the Trial Chamber in the Karadžić Case,[2] based on forensic and demographic evidence, as well as DNA analyses that were available in January 2012, that at least 5,115 men were killed, but  not in combat. We also have a good example involving historical documents – the 2004 Report by the Government of Republika Srpska “on the events in and around Srebrenica, between 10 and 19 July 1995.” This report, which is internationally accepted as one of the most important documents pertaining to Srebrenica, did not lose significance nor undergo removal  from court records when the incumbent RS Government rendered it null and void.[3]

            Regarding the objections related to the incorrectly reduced number of Serb victims in Sarajevo and Srebrenica, to survivors on lists of the Srebrenica genocide victims, and to duplicate victims – these are all errors that can be corrected through the application of a uniform methodology. If all the existing data and court facts on reported victims are entered into a single database, with precisely defined search and verification parameters, it would be easy to confirm the actual victims, and to identify the duplicates and those registered on the basis of an appearance in only one source. Therefore the differences in the data from the Institute for Research on the Suffering of the Serbs in the 20th Century, according to which 8,225 Serbs were killed or went missing in Sarajevo, and from the RDC, which lists the names of 3,974 Serb victims (2,900 soldiers and 1,074 civilians) in the territory of the 10 municipalities of the City of Sarajevo,[4] could quickly be verified, to the advantage of the actual victims. But this can be achieved only if the work is done locally and regionally, and not by establishing international commissions that can do no more than we can for ourselves and through the reconciliation between us.

            It is reasonable to ask whether it is responsible to pay translators and foreigners to engage in a task whose results will not achieve any international recognition, in a situation where, among other things, the younger members of the families of the victims are among those hastily leaving Republika Srpska in search of work and a more certain future.

            The good news is that the European Commission has decided to give strong support to reconciliation in the region of the former Yugoslavia, steered by “our capacities”, and that it has realized that the naming of  war victims should become the standard for achieving justice in post-conflict societies. This is a warning that now is the last moment for the states in the region to  create together a list of the names of the victims in the wars in the region of the former Yugoslavia.[5]

Nataša Kandić,18  February 2019.


[1] 3 April 2008.

[2] Trial Chamber Judgement, 24 March 2016.

[3] 18 August 2018.

[4] IDC, 3 April 2008.

[5] According to multiple sources, the total number of victims during the 1991-2001 period is around 130,000.