Serbia and Kosovo* must end politicised tactics that hamper truth, justice and reconciliation efforts aimed at addressing the legacy of grave human rights violations during the 1998-99 armed conflict in the region, a UN expert said today.
At the end of an 11-day official visit to Serbia and Kosovo, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Fabián Salvioli, raised concerns about the lack of cooperation among authorities in Belgrade and Pristina in the transitional justice process.
The UN expert noted in his statement that questions about the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and the pursuit of criminal justice for war crimes have dominated the transitional justice process in Serbia and Kosovo since the end of the conflict. He welcomed initiatives adopted by relevant authorities for truth-seeking and justice, but noted that progress had been “alarmingly slow”.
“Lack of cooperation often driven by political agendas have brought progress to a halt,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Salvioli urged Serbia and Kosovo to intensify efforts to bring perpetrators of gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law to justice, regardless of their ethnic affiliation. “The search for missing persons and cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo, including in the Working Group of Missing Persons, must be resumed without further delay,” he said. “The families of missing persons find themselves hostage to political interests and to the unwillingness of authorities, who fail to take steps to end their suffering.”
The UN expert also warned about restrictive legal frameworks in Serbia and Kosovo which hamper access to reparations by all victims of the conflict. “I call on relevant authorities in Belgrade and Pristina to improve their respective legal frameworks to ensure that all victims can access reparation without discrimination,” the expert said.
He expressed concern about the insufficient recognition and commemoration of the harm suffered by all victims to the conflict. “The acknowledgement of suffering and dignity of all victims is vital to an effective process of transition and reconciliation,” the UN expert said, urging authorities to ensure transmission of their stories to current and future generations through school curricula and textbooks, cultural activities and the media.
“The legacy of past violations with all its complexities must be adequately and comprehensively addressed to move the process of social reconciliation forward. Victims must be placed at the very centre of this process,” Salvioli said.
The Special Rapporteur observed the extensive use of ethnocentric, nationalistic and biased narratives about the conflict in fields of education, memorialisation, culture and the media in both Serbia and Kosovo. “The manipulation of past events and the concomitant exaltation of nationalistic and ethnic-related sentiments for political motivation, is short-sighted, ill-advised and an act of public irresponsibility which can lead to the recurrence of violence,” he said.
He urged authorities to ensure that narratives and history textbooks do not become sources of future conflicts.
Salvioli called on the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina to renew efforts to advance comprehensive transitional justice agendas in Serbia and Kosovo with a view to achieving effective reconciliation, sustaining peace and preventing a recurrence of violence.
During his visit, the UN expert met government officials, civil society and human rights representatives, survivors of war crimes, families of victims, and representatives of the international community. He also visited mass grave sites, former concentration camps, and memorials dedicated to remembering the past.
The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report on his visit to the Human Rights Council in 2023.