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The UN Warned: Politics is Hindering the Process of Searching for the Missing in Kosovo

Many victims in Serbia and Kosovo did not receive adequate compensation due to deficiencies in the legal framework, said Fabian Salvioli, UN special rapporteur on promoting truth and justice.

The search and identification of missing persons and the implementation of punitive measures have dominated Serbia and Kosovo since the end of the conflict, according to a report by Fabian Salvioli, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth and justice.

Special Rapporteur Salvioli presented a report on his visit to Serbia and Kosovo at the end of last year, in which he assesses the progress made in resolving serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed during the armed conflicts of the 1990s.

In the report, as reported by Al Jazeera’s reporter Ivica Puljić, it highlights the efforts made after the conflict in Serbia and Kosovo, with the support of the international community, in searching for missing persons. However, it highlights the lack of cooperation in recent years, the challenges of accountability and the reparations process, and the inadequacy of measures to promote the memory of past violence, to counter feelings of discord and promote reconciliation.

Progress has stalled alarmingly

Numerous efforts by domestic and international actors have led to significant progress, especially in the search for missing persons. In recent years, progress has stalled alarmingly, fueled by a lack of cooperation between the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina, according to a report seen by Al Jazeera reporter Ivica Puljić.

The politicization of the search for missing persons and the manipulation of its humanitarian mandate for political purposes caused enormous frustration in civil society and the international community, but above all among the victims. Families of missing persons have become hostages of political interests, but also of the authorities’ unwillingness to take the necessary measures to end their suffering. The lethargic rate of prosecutions and convictions, fueled by a lack of political will, despite increased human and technical capacities, further complicates victims’ complaints and weakens the rule of law.

It seems as if the decision makers in Serbia and Kosovo have started a negative race in their truth-seeking and criminal responsibility programs. This destructive race violates the rights of victims, hinders social cohesion, undermines institutional trust-building and, ultimately, prevents sustainable peace.

Special Rapporteur Salvioli calls on the relevant authorities in Serbia and Kosovo to immediately stop using politicized tactics in their transitional justice programs and to put the urgent needs of victims and society as a whole at the center of all legal, political and technical decisions and actions in these areas.

Many victims in Serbia, and to a lesser but still significant extent in Kosovo, did not receive adequate compensation, due to deficiencies in the appropriate legal frameworks that do not recognize and do not provide equal rights and benefits to all categories of victims. In Kosovo, the stigmatization of victims of sexual violence significantly hinders access to rights and compensation for this category of victims and requires urgent attention.

Put the victims first

Special Rapporteur Salvioli is concerned about insufficient recognition and commemoration of the damage suffered by all victims of the conflict in Serbia and Kosovo. He wanted to remind that the recognition of the suffering and dignity of all victims, as well as the transmission of their stories to current and future generations, is of vital importance for the effectiveness of peace-building efforts. The legacy of past violations in all its complexity must be adequately and comprehensively addressed and aid in the process of social reconciliation, placing victims at the center of that process and ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable.

Allowing conflict-affected societies and victimized populations to explain a brutal past – without justifying or denying it – eases existing tensions and enables society to live more peacefully with the legacy of past divisions.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the continued use of ethnocentric, nationalist and/or biased or incomplete narratives about the conflict in politics, media, culture and education in Serbia and Kosovo.

The manipulation of past events and the accompanying elevation of nationalistic and ethnic sentiments for political reasons, even if it appears to provide short-term political benefit to its supporters and perpetrators, is not only illegitimate and contrary to international standards, but also short-sighted, reckless and above all an act of extreme public irresponsibility that can lead to the repetition of violence from the past.

The Special Rapporteur calls on the authorities in Serbia and Kosovo to immediately stop the exaltation of nationalist and divisive feelings in public action and discourse. Negligence in this regard can and will only be interpreted as liability.