Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Democratizing Justice in the Post-Conflict Balkans: The Dilemma of Domestic Human Rights Activists

Academic journal article CEU Political Science Journal

Democratizing Justice in the Post-Conflict Balkans: The Dilemma of Domestic Human Rights Activists

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Throughout the 1990s the breakup of the former Yugoslavia led to horrendous conflict among the newly proclaimed independent states. Since, dealing with past war crimes and accounting for mass atrocities has constituted a very intricate and contentious process, mainly led by state-centric international retributive justice initiatives. In this context, the 1993 creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague constituted a watershed moment in international humanitarian law that lead to a global spillover effect. (1) Within the last few years, an increasing number of national war crimes prosecution mechanisms have also been established, taking on transfer cases while The Hague Tribunal is winding down its activities. In fact, transitional justice processes in the Balkans relied primarily on international retributive justice mechanisms even while the conflict was still ongoing. This is quite different from other transitional countries that sought to address the issue of grave human rights violations in Latin America and Africa in the 1990s: in most cases, trials were deemed too risky to the newly established democracy or were simply off the table as a policy option due to negotiated pacts. Truth commissions, and sometimes amnesties, thus loomed large in the 1990s transitional justice lexicon. The ICTY put the issue of accountability after atrocity at the center of transitional justice debates. (2) While the ICTY has made many important contributions to international law and without a doubt has reshaped transitional justice debates and practice, the Tribunal was only partly successful in its mission to help society in the post-conflict Balkans cope with past mass atrocity. In many ways, the justice processes that took place faraway from the site of the conflict in The Hague did not fulfill the needs of victims of the Balkan wars. (3) As a result, almost two decades after the establishment of the ICTY, a series of truth-seeking initiatives have emerged across the former Yugoslavia to establish facts about the conflict that ravaged the Balkans and left 140,000 victims in its wake.

These attempts, however, have been very elusive and problematic. (4) I will draw on the most recent example, the Regional Commission for Establishing the Facts about War Crimes and other Gross Violations of Human Rights Committed on the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia (RECOM), in order to illustrate the dilemma human rights activists were confronted with while launching their advocacy campaign for a truth commission. RECOM began as a grass-roots project in 2008 and sought to provide more victim-oriented transitional justice projects and focused on the local needs of victims and their families to cope with past mass atrocities committed during 1991 and 2001. In other words, this regional fact-finding movement was an attempt to democratize international humanitarian law--and globalized human rights concepts more generally--in local post-conflict settings. Yet, since the beginning its founders have struggled to gain the official endorsement of international organizations and governments (in form of domestic laws that provide the legal foundation for the commission and financial resources, among others) to institutionalize their regional fact-seeking body.

This article explores the elusive efforts among NGOs in several states across the region--notably Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia and Serbia--to organize a transnational campaign to cope with past mass atrocities. Through participant observation and in-depth interviews, I examine how these NGOs discuss, interpret, and identify meanings of human rights and democracy within and across state-boundaries of countries in the former Yugoslavia. My study reveals the movement's struggle from within--caused by differing interests of its members--and from outside, as it seeks support from international and region-specific organizations as well as national governments. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.