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The first seminar within the project "Promoting a Social Climate Propitious to Transitional Justice and Culture of Non-impunity" realized with the assistance of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

Novi Pazar, May 27, 2011.

The first seminar on transitional justice for university students was organized at the International University in Novi Pazar under the title "Transitional Justice: Serbia's Attainments and Challenges." About thirty undergraduate final years students attending the course of human rights (at the Law Department) participated in the seminar along with several professors and Rector Melvud Dudic.

With their keynote addresses Seska Stanojlovic, Izabela Kisic and Pavel Domonji of the Helsinki Committee in Serbia and Aage Borchegrevnik of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee opened a lively and dynamic debate among the students.

On the very eve of the seminar, on May 26, Serbian authorities arrested the most infamous fugitive from the ICTY justice, Ratko Mladic, indicted for the Srebrenica genocide among other things. This major event practically marked the entire seminar. In her keynote address, however, Seska Stanojlovic stressed that though inseparable from transitional justice trials and punishment of perpetrators were insufficient for "a social catharsis in Serbia." Atrocities and monstrous crimes of the 1990s wars, she said, "contributed" to further development of international humanitarian law given that ICTY for the first time qualified rape - with reference to systematic rapes in Foca - as a crime against humanity.

"The manner in which ITCY rulings are interpreted in the media and in general public are as important for facing the past as sentences themselves," she said, adding, "This also refers to interpretations on the context of 1990s wars, mostly those that either relativize Serbia's primary responsibility by putting blame on 'others' or negate any responsibility." Actually, Serbia has not abandoned the Greater Serbia project yet, this goal is still valid though the means to attain it have changed, she explained.

Aage Borchgrevnik said that at first he planned to speak about his recent experience of Chechnya and Georgia but then gave up the idea when he saw a controversial documentary on Srebrenica at the Norwegian main TV channel. True, the said documentary, a joint enterprise by Norwegian, British and Serb journalists, does not negate the Srebrenica crime but considerably relativizes it by belittling the responsibility of Serb troops and Gen. Ratko Mladic. According to Aage Borchgrevnik, the documentary raised a hue and cry in his country and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee publicly protested against the manner in which Srebrenica developments were featured.

Izabela Kisic reminded that Serbia has not reached yet a consensus on the concept of transitional justice. The situation in the media made the great bulk of her keynote address. Speaking of transitional justice the role of the media needs to be thoroughly analyzed, particularly the role they played in the preparations for the war and during it, she said. Even Milosevic's ouster and October 5 have failed to launch the process of facing the past in the media. The media have not undergone lustration and warmongering reporters have not been dismissed. Moreover, after appealing to higher courts some of them, like infamous Milijana Baletic, have resumed their jobs. The "apology" the RTS Public Broadcasting Service has recently publicized gives no mention to the war or war crimes, let alone analyzes the media house's doings at the time. By trying to justify their roles during the war, older journalists are practically justifying the war itself, she said. Younger generations of reporters, who make the great majority in today's media, do not remember golghota of Sarajevo, Vukovar or Srebrenica and, as it seems, are quite indifferent about it.

Speaking of the arrest of Ratko Mladic of the day before, Pavel Domonji indicated three characteristics of reactions by Serbia's politicians: first, Serbia fulfils its international obligations; second, the cooperation with ICTY is nearing its end; and, third, Mladic's arrest will facilitate Serbia's EU candidacy. According to Domonji, the arrest of the person accused of the biggest crime in Europe after the WWII must not be seen as a bargain with Europe but a matter of justice.

There are mechanisms of transitional justice such as trials, truth commissions or reparation programs, said Domonji. The sentence no matter how high that will be ruled to Ratko Mladic cannot compensate for atrocities and massive violation of human rights in 1990s. Facing up the past may not prevent some new war but may crystallize moral, intellectual and political criteria for recognizing evil and more efficient confrontation with it than in 1990s, he added.

As expected, the ensuing, dynamic discussion from the audience was toned by Mladic's arrest. Students also said that everything seemed like a bargain with ICTY, something like "we give you the accused for war crimes, you open the door to EU for us in return," all of which is far from transitional justice. Besides, the memory of the 1990s wars weights on Sandzak as a region bordering on Bosnia-Herzegovina: not only because of columns of refugees who sought refuge there but also because of repression against Bosniaks in Sandzak, resulting in some 20,000 Muslim victims. As for the present-day, said students, Bosniaks are again discriminated, notably in public administration. For instance, Serbs make up 80 percent of police forces in the region in which they amount to only 20 percent of total population.

The participants in the seminar were also interested to learn more about the REKOM initiative. Commenting it, some underlined that the major task to determining the number of victims of the 1990s wars should not be an excuse for relativization of responsibility for the wars and the crimes committed. Questions from the audience mostly referred to the reasons behind and the context of the wars, as well as to the modes for renewal of mutual trust between Serbs and Bosniaks. They kept reminding that Bosniaks were not only exposed to repression during the 1990s wars but also throughout the past 150 years.










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