Tanjug: RECOM model for overcoming the past

An interview with HLC executive director, Natasa Kandic

HLC executive director, Natasa Kandic, said today that the initiators of the initiative for the formation of a Regional Commission to establish the facts about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights in the former Yugoslavia (RECOM) believe that such a commission is the only way to overcome the past and that without dealing with the past there can be no the democratic future for the region. Kandic in interview with Tanjug said that about 500 NGOs, associations of victims, veterans, women and youth groups launched the initiative and are working intensively on drafting the statute and RECOM model, whose formation will made by decision of the successor states to the former Yugoslavia.

Kandić tells Tanjug that debates and discussions about the Initiative are being organized all over the region because in addition to war crimes trials, RECOM is a way to help create a truthful response to the events of the past and an accurate record of these events.

“We all agreed that war crimes trials, held before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and in all countries of the former Yugoslavia, are the most important legal mechanism, and that these trials are most important for determining individual criminal responsibility, but it is a slow process in which yields few facts about what happened in the past,” said the HLC executive director.

According to Kandic, trials before the ICTY have established important facts that help explain history from the perspective of those who are accused and convicted. But it is estimated that by 2025 the ICTY and national courts will sentence no more than between 800 and 1000 people who participated in crimes or were convicted on the basis of command responsibility.

She added that that number indicates that we will have only a fragmentary knowledge about the past and a space in which everyone will be free to present their own interpretation. Nowhere will there be the full facts.

“For this reason it has been our idea to gather at a regional level and for the first time, human rights organizations, associations of victims, youth organizations are trying  to make our countries, our governments and parliaments listen to us, and try to pressure them to help us establish the facts and create a truthful record of what happened in the past, ” said Natasa Kandic.

She said that the most important current issue is how states will normalize relations in the region, and that the initiators of the RECOM initiative believe that this is needed but that building confidence among the people and trust in institutions will not be possible through trials for war crimes alone. We believe that RECOM is an exit from the past, said Kandic, underlining that it is most important to focus on the victims.

“It has no meaning at all and we will not have an accurate historical record with respect to what happened in the past, if we only feel for our own victims”, said Kandic, adding that “victims must come out of their ethnic shelters” so that what happened to them can be known and they can find a space where they can talk about that.

“All that have gathered around this initiative believe that returning to the past is a precondition of a democratic future, because there is no democracy if one does not know exactly what happened,” she said, adding that if we do not revisit the past we only have different political interpretations of events.

In her opinion, forming RECOM is possible even though the authorities would rather draw a line under past and turn to European integration.

“There can be no European integration, and no road to Europe because there is no one like us and we need to do something that will show that our value system is close to that [European] value system,” said Kandic.

She said that there are more arguments for the acceptance of the Initiative: the first is the “bottom up” character of the RECOM initiative – the first such initiative of this kind in this region that has happened since the war; the second is its regional character, and the third is that it is the first initiative that has managed to bring together associations of families missing persons and victims, veterans, refugee groups and youth organizations.

She announced the collection of a million signatures in support of the Initiative, and underlined that these arguments prove that REKOM must become a state project.

Kandic explained that the debate will continue until November 2010, when there will be a finished model which will make explicit the mandate and objectives of RECOM, which will be adopted [by the Coalition for RECOM] in December 2010, while the collection of signatures will be organized in March and April 2011.

“The plan is to present the RECOM model and the million signatures to the parliaments of all the countries of former Yugoslavia on June 1st 2011,” explained Kandic.