The response of the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) to allegations of the Research and Documentation Centre (RDC) contained in the press release issued on January 14, 2009

The response of the Humanitarian Law Centre (HLC) to allegations of the Research and Documentation Centre (RDC) contained in the press release issued on January 14, 2009

On January 14, 2009 the HLC received a press release issued by the RDC stating reasons for their decision to decline membership in the Coalition for the establishment of RECOM, which was at the same time addressed to a number of organizations, associations, donors, embassies, media outlets, and individuals.

The RDC stated the following reasons for such a decision:

  1. The lack of Statute, clear objectives, and the mission of the Coalition for RECOM.

HLC response: Together with the RDC and Documenta (who, in addition to the HLC, started this initiative), the HLC started advocating the creation of the Coalition and the transfer of authority for conducting consultations on the establishment of RECOM as a Regional civil society coalition. That proposal and the mission of the Coalition to conduct a public debate within the civil society in post-Yugoslav countries on the need to establish RECOM as the most important non-legal response were encouraged by both Documenta and the RDC. However, the RDC was doubtful from the beginning about the outcome of the initiative. Starting in May 2008, when the three organizations formed a Coordination Group and appointed eight members tasked with overseeing the activities aimed at the implementation of the consultation process, each meeting and each consultation began with the presentation of the initiative, of the course of the consultation process, the mission, and the objectives of the Coalition. Keynote speakers, Nataša Kandić and Vesna Teršelič, took each opportunity to remind participants that the goal of establishing the Coalition and its overall activity is to create a RECOM model and to win over the public and the political elite in the region in their efforts to establish RECOM, the ultimate goal of which would be to prevent future recurrence of war crimes. The fact that Mr. Mirsad Tokača rarely participated in the consultations may account for his lack of understanding of the goals of the activities undertaken by the Coalition. It is true that the Coordination Group has not come up with a draft Statute of the Coalition, but it is also true that the Group has set a deadline for the submission of the draft Statute – which is May 2009, when the Fifth Regional Forum on Transitional Justice is to be held in Podgorica, on which occasion the Co-ordination Group will consult the members of the Coalition. The draft version of the Statute is being prepared at the moment.

  1. Ignoring the fact that the authorities and the governments in the region have not as of yet responded to the initiative to establish RECOM, as well as the fact that because they do not recognize the independence of Kosovo, Serbia and BiH will not accept Kosovo as an equal partner in the process of establishing RECOM.

HLC response: The Coalition of the civil society for the establishment of RECOM is conducting consultations within the civil society in the region and that process itself is very important because it is the first time after the war that human rights organizations started an initiative which was accepted in the civil societies of the post-Yugoslav countries.

It is a fact that Serbia and BiH do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, but it is also a fact that Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia do. The initiative to create RECOM can be an opportunity to establish the much needed relations between Serbia and Kosovo, and in that context it is not necessary to complicate the process with threats that everything is in vain.

The Coalition for RECOM will address their respective national governments and parliaments as the consultation process comes to its end, and present them 1.000.000 signatures in support of the establishment of RECOM and a proposed RECOM model.

  1. Ignoring the warning by the RDC that the donors should be informed about possible failure of the efforts to establish RECOM and the possible bad investment of their capital.

HLC response: The HLC is aware of the risk but strongly believes that the consultation process resulting in establishing the facts about war crimes is extremely significant and that the public debate at the regional level is an indicator of the need to conduct a public critical analysis of the past and restitute the dignity of the victims of war crimes.

The aforementioned consultation process is the only public debate in the region tackling the issue of dealing with the past, and as such it should be understood as a result of a societal need, not as a financial investment.

  1. Ignoring the warning of the RDC that it was not appropriate for the debate on war crimes at the Forth Regional Forum on Transitional Justice, held in Priština on October 28 and 29, 2008, to be opened by an organization from Belgrade, and their suggestion that the representatives of the three partner organizations should address the participants of the forum during the introduction.

HLC response: It is true that the HLC did not accept the suggestion made by the RDC that Nataša Kandić, Vesna Teršelič, and Mirsad Tokača should open the Forum held in Priština, because HLC believed that it was important for the consultation process that the Forum be opened by politicians supporting the regional approach in the dealing with the past process, which was the case in Sarajevo, Zagreb, and Belgrade. Representatives of the organizations which started the initiative always spoke during the first session, but following the introduction remarks of the politicians. Technically speaking, Nataša Kandić did open the Forum in Priština – she announced the president of Kosovo, the Vice Prime Minister, and the Justice Minister of Kosovo, who very strongly supported the regional approach in establishing the facts about war crimes. Nataša Kandić, Vesna Teršelič, and Valdete Idrizi spoke about the initiative and the course of the consultation process during the first session, while Mirsad Tokača refused to take the floor in this part of the Forum.

Having in mind the reputation the HLC enjoys in Kosovo, it is entirely pointless even to comment on Mirsad Tokača’s opinion that because of the responsibility of Serbia for war crimes committed in Kosovo it was not appropriate for Nataša Kandić, representing an organization from Belgrade, to open the Forum in Kosovo.

  1. Inadequate and uneven distribution of funds received by the HLC for the regional project Consultations on establishing the facts about war crimes intended to be used by all three organizations

HLC response: Until December 2008, when the HLC received a grant of EUR 960.000,00 from the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Belgrade for the regional project, the three organizations facilitated four regional forums and 13 regional and national consultations on mechanisms for establishing facts about war crimes. As a rule, the HLC always wrote project proposals and compiled budget proposals and budget reports. It was also customary for the HLC to send project proposals and inform Documenta and the RDC about a positive or a negative response from the donors.  From May 2006 to the end of 2008 Documenta and RDC raised a portion of the funds needed for the organization of the Forum in Sarajevo in 2006 and in Zagreb in 2007 while the remaining amount, approximately 85% of the total amount needed for forums in Belgrade and Priština, as well as 13 regional and national consultations, was secured by the HLC.

HLC submitted project proposals to donors on behalf of the three organizations and they also compiled narrative and financial reports, at the same time informing the partner organizations about it on a regular basis. The funds acquired from donors were used, in accordance with the approved project, to organize consultations, and the HLC, Documenta, and RDC were reimbursed for expenses such as phone bills and author’s fees of the associates engaged to help with the organization of the consultations. The same practice was applied to the grant obtained from the Dutch embassy in Belgrade in December 2008. The budget provided for EUR 500 monthly for administrative costs and equal salary for national consultation coordinators in each of the three partner organizations. Since it is a serious project and a sizeable grant, the budget also foresaw that the HLC, in addition to the regional coordinator, shall employ a financial officer tasked with overseeing the use of the grant and financial reporting, as well as a national coordinator for Serbia. As soon as the grant was approved, HLC informed RDC, Documenta, and the Coordination Group about it. RDC requested an equal allocation of the funds between the three organizations and equal rights for each organization to take turns every eight months in managing the consultation process. HLC was not able to accommodate such a request claiming that it was their sole responsibility to compile financial reports and that handing over the finances to another organization would constitute a serious breach of agreement with the donor. Documenta believed that the organization which signed the contract was responsible for project realization and financial reporting with respect to the donor. Although there was a training session for the members of the Coordination Group on December 17 and 18, 2008, president of the RDC was no longer interested in taking part in the consultations on the establishment of RECOM and soon informed us through the national coordinator that he would not be signing the statement joining the Coalition for RECOM.

Nataša Kandić

Executive Director