In-depth | Elections2021

Elections 2021, a different perspective on transitional justice

By - 12.02.2021

With elections happening almost every two years, K2.0 listens to ideas on solutions amid dubious promises.

Although elections have become a common occurrence in Kosovo, discussing what is genuinely important for the lives of constituents is rare.

In political party rallies, televised debates and what is written and said by and about political parties, there is a lot of talk of party calculations and maneuvers, polls, slogans and individuals; and less on the practical issues that would inform voters of what to expect after the electoral campaigns. In principle, the electoral campaigns themselves should serve this purpose — so that voters know what they are voting for.

Amid all of this and, above all, to challenge this context, we at K2.0 spoke with experts in various fields. Through their answers we have endeavored to list some of the issues that are not discussed but will be important for voters when they head to the polls on February 14.

Through the series “Elections 2021, a different perspective” that comprises eight articles, each focused on one specific field, we elaborate on what exactly is not receiving due attention, what is the current situation and what should be done to change things in favor of the citizens. We also try to inform voters and make their well-being the focus of the discussion by providing forward looking solutions.

A different perspective on dealing with the past

Although transitional justice addresses serious and systematic human rights violations during the war, 21 years later, its concept continues to be seen as an NGO issue rather than a part of Kosovo’s political discourse.

Over 10,000 people were killed or went missing as a result of the Kosovo war, including over 1,640 people who have still not been found. It is precisely transitional justice that deals with this legacy of war, accountability and reparations for victims and their families.

It is usually the prosecution, truth commissions and reparations programs that constitute the main mechanisms to address war crimes, but all remain very inefficient initiatives at best. This becomes clearer when we remember that missing persons have not yet become part of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue.

The failure of the Serbian state to apologize for war crimes committed under Milošević’s regime; the mass graves that were discovered and are thought to contain more than 1,110 Albanian bodies; the lack of reparations and slow war crimes trials showcase the bleak development of transitional justice in Serbia. On the other hand, Kosovo continues to provide no official response to over 400 missing Serbs and Roma, most of whom were killed during the first year after the war, and is failing to prosecute perpetrators.

"What is clearly missing is a vision for the future, projected from the lessons learned from the past and the justice established for victims and survivors of all ethnicities living together in Kosovo."

Korab Krasniqi, forumZFD

The political programs of the parties that are running in the February 14 elections do not mention transitional justice in terminology, however some of them emphasize some mechanisms of this issue. None of the programs addresses postwar crimes against the non-Albanian population.

The LDK has no section in its program dedicated to tackling war crimes, while the AAK limits itself to proposing the number of prosecutors and judges in the War Crimes Department.

Vetëvendosje dedicates a program chapter to war crimes, listing various measures aimed at addressing war crimes and evaluating the damage inflicted upon people, the community, the environment and the economy. It also proposes the preparation of a reparations platform for crimes committed during the war, while as a priority of the government it emphasizes the genocide lawsuit against Serbia at the International Court of Justice.

The PDK addresses the legacy of the war in the chapter on dialogue as part of the party’s demands for a final agreement. It says that it seeks a complete solution to the issue of missing persons, war reparations, compensation for war damages, compensation for the destruction of the budgetary and financial system of Kosovo, etc. It also concludes that the agreement should contain Serbia’s apology for crimes committed in Kosovo.

We talked about dealing with the past and transitional justice with Valëza Sadriu and Korab Krasniqi, activists in this field and members of civil society. To our questions about what we lack, what aspirations we should have and how change can come, they answered:

What do we lack?

Korab Krasniqi, program manager, forumZFD

In the absence of a comprehensive national strategy, transitional justice in Kosovo takes place mainly within a circle of nonstate actors, who in the absence of institutional competencies lead processes that involve a variety of aspects of the work of transitional justice.

What is clearly missing is a vision for the future, projected from the lessons learned from the past and the justice established for victims and survivors of all ethnicities living together in Kosovo. Civil society in Kosovo has largely managed to document and address publicly numerous human rights violations as a result of repression and repression by the Milošević regime during the 1990s.

However, what remains outside the working discourse are mass evictions, looting and destruction of architecture, economic damage, hostage-taking, imprisonment and maltreatment, theft of pension funds, cadastral documents, archaeological and museum assets, etc., which have been applied as tools of war by the Yugoslav army and Serbian police.

Valëza Sadriu, researcher:

Kosovo lacks the institutional infrastructure to deal with the past, which is needed to address the needs of victims and citizens. As a result, dealing with the past in our country is only partially addressed.

Due to the lack of political will and institutional resources to initiate a process of dealing with the past at the national level, Kosovo has not yet fulfilled its obligation to prosecute and document systemic human rights violations or assess the socio-economic damage caused during the conflict.

Kosovo institutions have not yet made serious efforts to explore legal possibilities for seeking justice and recognizing victims at the regional or international level. We often hear politicians, especially now during the election campaigns, say that the “lawsuit against Serbia” will be their priority; however, none of the governments to date have worked to build the case or trace the available legal avenues to proceed with a possible lawsuit.

Our foreign policy and diplomacy have failed to be the voice of the victims and their needs. Kosovo institutions have ignored the victims’ demands for truth, justice and compensation for crimes committed, in the dialogue with Serbia or in other instances where the state has had the opportunity to seek the fulfillment of their rights.

Kosovo institutions, political parties and party leaders also lack a unified perspective and will, which are required to deal with the past. Identifying initiatives with their initiators is an obstacle for transitional justice mechanisms that aim to have the trust and cooperation of citizens as part of their work.

What aspirations should we have?

Korab: Kosovo must aspire to establish lasting peace in the country by ensuring all its citizens equal rights, equal access to public resources and the right to exercise them without prejudice to language, culture, religion, gender, etc. Transitional justice processes in Kosovo must ensure the establishment of truth and social fabric.

"The state must provide future generations with lessons from the past and commemorate the victims."

Valëza Sadriu, researcher

The aim should be to establish a social and institutional culture for dealing with the past and to establish justice for all victims of the 1998-99 war in Kosovo, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender. Kosovo needs to engage in changing policies and practices for education and commemoration by introducing comprehensive and multifaceted models that, among other things, accommodate narratives based on civic experience, despite policies that maintain glorifying and masculine discourse and deepen victimizing identities.

Valëza: Through transitional justice, Kosovo must aim to actualize the right to truth for victims and society. The purpose of this process should be to contribute to the historical clarification of what happened, before and during the conflict, and to shed light on the fate of every victim whose case is known.

Another goal is requesting and contributing to the end of recognizing all the victims regardless of ethnicity, gender or affiliation. Recognizing victims is a way of exercising their right to justice. It is also the responsibility of the state, and it should be — Kosovo institutions can best bring justice to victims by making sure they adequately investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for the crimes committed.

We must aim to fight impunity for serious human rights violations. Every action, every measure or initiative to deal with the past must reflect this fight against impunity.

Promoting and contributing to coexistence between communities is a necessary goal for lasting peace. In this regard, preserving national memory is also essential. The state must provide future generations with lessons from the past and commemorate the victims.

What changes are needed to fulfill aspirations?

Korab: Kosovo should immediately engage in the mapping of (state and nonstate) actors and, with broad participation, draft a national strategy for transitional justice with a civil bases and free from political influence and uniform perception of justice and history, through which it would set certain objectives, harmonizes initiatives and ensures the establishment of comprehensive transitional justice policies.

The Kosovo war of 1998-99 and flagrant human rights violations need to be further researched, documented and theorized from a national, regional and international context. This requires research institutes and programs, requires broader academic and practical engagement, review of history textbooks, documentary museological projects, policies for cultural representation, etc.

"Documenting serious human rights violations and assessing socio-economic damage are among the first tasks our institutions must undertake."

Valëza Sadriu, researcher

The slanderous public discourse directed at individuals working toward fact-finding and truth-telling about the events of the recent war in Kosovo should be condemned and political parties, public institutions, the media and others should adopt conflict-aware policies and vocabularies. Any practice that encourages the opposite makes it impossible to deal with the difficult past and makes it difficult to realize the aspirations for the democratic transformation of society and the establishment of justice. Denials and distortions of the truth deepen ethnic divisions and antagonisms.

Valëza: Our institutions need to develop a functional strategy, plan, or system for dealing with the past. Kosovo needs to provide the necessary resources and institutional capacity for transitional justice initiatives or measures to achieve their goal.

We need to determine the results we want to achieve through the transitional justice process. Lack of clarity and understanding of the goals we want to achieve through this process will result in inefficient measures and unsuccessful implementation of initiatives.

Transitional justice mechanisms must respond to the specifics of our case and our specific context. If we try to use traditional transitional justice mechanisms used in other contexts by the same purpose structure, we will not properly address the needs of victims.

Documenting serious human rights violations and assessing socio-economic damage are among the first tasks our institutions must undertake. Only after fulfilling these tasks can we move forward to seek truth, justice and compensation for victims internationally.

Kosovo institutions and political actors should avoid any negotiation and refuse to participate in any initiative if amnesty for serious crimes against human rights and crimes against humanity committed during the Kosovo conflict is part of them.

We need to actively listen to the needs and concerns of victims. We need to understand their needs and respond to them. Instead of seeing them as passive victims, our society and institutions should see the victims as powerful survivors and leaders of our community.K

Feature image: Ferdi Limani.