Council of Europe: Denial of war crimes endangers peace in former Yugoslavia

Despite years of war crimes tribunals and reconciliation attempts between the states of the former Yugoslavia, hate speech and ultra-nationalism pose a threat to peace efforts in the Balkans, Europe's top human rights watchdog said on Thursday. The deadly disintegration of Yugoslavia triggered a series of Balkan wars, with an estimated 130,000 people died in conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Slovenia. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has held a succession of high-profile cases to assist bring perpetrators of the most serious crimes to justice.

Despite the court's efforts and several decisions, the Council of Europe stated that reconciliation efforts are still weak, owing in part to a lack of political will. "The consequences of the failure to implement past-sensitive reforms continue to undermine democratic progress and peace in the region," according to a study released by the council. According to the institute, politicians promote "ethno-nationalist discourse, denial of atrocities, and glorification of war criminals." "The denial of genocide and other atrocities, the glorification of war criminals and attempts to restore the credibility of individuals convicted of war crimes in the 1990s are of grave concern and are spreading across the region, including at the highest political levels" , the authors of the report stated. The presence of war criminals - both alleged and convicted assailants - in institutions and public services "has a serious impact on victims and survivors, as well as the success of rule of law reform efforts."

In Serbia, the ruling Serbian Progressive Party of President Aleksandar Vucic and the Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj, who is convicted of crimes against humanity, have hinted that they will join forces in municipal elections in December. Vucic began his political career under Seselj's supervision, serving as general secretary of the Radical Party until becoming information minister in the cabinet of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the late 1990s.

In neighbouring Bosnia, Milorad Dodik, the leader of the country's Bosnian Serbs, maintains that "there was no genocide in Srebrenica," where Serb forces killed around 8,000 Muslim men and teens.

Among other recommendations, the Council of Europe stated that "state apologies are critical to acknowledging the seriousness of what happened and influencing public perception of the victims." Following World War II, the Council of Europe, which has 46 member nations, was established to monitor and protect human rights in Europe. /BGNES