Letter of support – Dr. Juan E. Mendez
November 25, 2009
US Institute of Peace Washington DC
Dear friends: I am deeply honored to offer an enthusiastic recommendation in support of the proposal presented by the Humanitarian Law Center, of Belgrade, Serbia, to conduct a one-year project called “Mapping Public Memorials in the post-Yugoslav States.”
I have had the pleasure of knowing the HLC and its Director, Natasa Kandic, since 2003, and of working closely with her in my previous capacity as President of the International Center for Transitional Justice. I traveled to Belgrade and Sarajevo on three occasions over the last three years, in all cases to participate in programs sponsored by the HLC, and I have shared panels and conferences with Natasa and her colleagues in New York, Brussels and Cape Town on several occasions. It has been my privilege to obtain first-hand knowledge of the HLC’s remarkable success in securing accountability for the war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide that attended the terrible wars of the Former Yugoslavia. I know HLC is very well known to many people at USIP, and that I need not extol its accomplishments over the years. I do want to say that its contributions to accountability for the egregious crimes of the past have been an example to the world, especially as they were initiated at times when public opinion in Serbia was running so strongly against an honest, truthful, fair reckoning with the recent past. I have been impressed with HLC’s ability to overcome those prejudices and constitute itself into a highly respected and admired institution even
within Serbia. This one of those rare examples in which human rights organizations defeat overwhelming odds against them by sticking to principle and maintaining the highest standards of credibility and rigor. One aspect of HLC’s work that caught my attention is also visible in this proposal: Natasa’s willingness to build bridges to other human rights NGOs in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo and to share equally with them the responsibilities and the credit for the success of her initiatives. I have followed closely their discussions about a regional truth commission and, despite the many difficulties in bringing it to fruition, it remains today the most serious attempt to deal with the past in the Former Yugoslavia.Memorialization is an important part of the attempts by societies to come to grips with a painful past. At ICTJ we decided to set up a specific thematic program to gather knowledge about such efforts and to provide some assistance to initiatives to maintain the memory of the victims alive. Because memorials arise spontaneously from the culture in which they are born, USIP November 25, 2009 Page two they can be controversial and contentious; in fact, in some cases they may contribute to inflame passions rather than to achieve reconciliation. For that reason, it is very important for civil society to engage in memorialization in a sustained and systematic way, inspired in the principles of human rights and justice rather than on vindication of ethnic or religious grievances. I have read the proposal submitted by HLC and it seems to me to fulfill the requirement I mentioned in the previous paragraph. In addition, the credentials and background of HLC, Documenta, HLC-Kosovo and ICTJ guarantee that memory initiatives remain faithful to the objective of
avoiding repetition of human rights tragedies. The methodology of capacity building through training sessions held in the field, coupled with research and dissemination, is very appropriate to the problem identified and to the means selected to address it.
I will be honored and glad to offer more insight and analysis if you consider it necessary. I am very grateful for your attention to this letter.
Juan E. Méndez
Washington College of Law