More than 20 years after the end of the most serious conflict in Europe since World War II, Kosovo still grapples with the repercussions of mass atrocities. ICTJ supports meaningful victim-led transitional justice initiatives in the country to promote truth, justice, and reconciliation in the country.
From 1991 to 2001, the Western Balkans was the battleground for the most serious conflict in Europe since World War II, one in which massive human rights violations were committed. The violations included widespread attacks on civilians, enforced displacements, systematic rape, and the use of concentration camps. More than 140,000 people were killed, and almost four million others were displaced. Between 1993 and 2013, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia sought accountability for these mass atrocities. Established by the UN Security Council, the tribunal indicted 161 individuals. Nevertheless, the legacy of the tribunal in the region has been compromised by some debates over whether its actions exacerbated ethnic tensions rather than positively contributed to a collective memory.
Today, Kosovo is still grappling with the repercussions of this deadly conflict. The entire population was affected the war, as it reached all the regions of the country. The hostilities strained the already tense relations between the Albanian and Serb populations. For the most part, political elites dominate and control the public discourse in Kosovo and Serbia, which has an impact on the relationship between the Kosovar-Albanian and Kosovar-Serb communities. The issue of the missing continues to haunt the region: At the time hostilities ended, an estimated 35,000 people were unaccounted for.
Over the last 20 years, several transitional justice initiatives were created to shed light on the past. In 2008, civil society organizations from several countries in the region came together to form a coalition for the establishment of the Regional Truth Commission in the Western Balkans (RECOM), aiming to consolidate the facts about war crimes committed, the people killed, and those who went missing or were held in prison or detention camps during the conflict. In 2012, the Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Dealing with the Past and Reconciliation was established to deal with past serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law including those committed in the last war and the transition period. Its mandated ended in 2016. In 2015, the Kosovo Specialist Chamber was set up with jurisdiction over “grave trans-boundary and international crimes” committed during and in the aftermath of the conflict.
In 2018, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci established the Preparatory Team for the Establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its tasks included the drafting of the Normative Act that established the commission and preparing an organigram and operational guidelines. The preparatory team held consultations with various communities and interest groups and published the Draft Normative Act in 2020.
In July 2021, in a milestone decision, the minister of justice established the Working Group for the Development of the National Strategy for Transitional Justice.
ICTJ has worked on the following initiatives in Kosovo:
- Trainings and capacity-building activities. With the support of the European Union and in partnership with PAX and local partners, ICTJ assists grassroots civil society actors through transitional justice and confidence-building initiatives. ICTJ helps provide tailored trainings aimed at strengthening civil society organizations, including victims’ and youth groups, and enhancing their knowledge of project management, institutional organization, and policy principles. Together with our partners, we facilitate outreach and policy initiatives with local and national authorities.
- Support for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 2019, ICTJ conducted preliminary national consultations on transitional justice and provided trainings on establishing a truth commission and technical advice during the drafting process of the Normative Act on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Expert advisement on reparations programs. ICTJ advised policymakers in the region on drafting reparations legislation and shared comparative country experiences with human rights organizations and victims’ groups. In 2009, ICTJ produced a report on property restitution in Kosovo.
- Assistance with truth-telling initiatives. ICTJ advised a special task force, which was established by the Coalition for RECOM to draft a regional truth commission’s mandate. We also commissioned a study to research available documentation of war crimes and human rights violations.