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«Martina Fischer/Ljubinka Petrović-Ziemer Forschung DSF Nº 36 Dealing with the Past and Peacebuilding in the Western Balkans1 Martina ...»

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Finally, the interviews reveal that misunderstandings and tensions have arisen among members of the CMPs in the three countries due to divergent understandings of key terms related to the war. Concepts like “genocide”, “aggression”, and “civil war” are defined in very different ways. Terms like “concentration camp”, “detention camp”, “detention centre”, and “collection centre” also need clarification. Disputes over these terms show that conflicting interpretations of war events exist. The interviewees therefore suggest that terminological clarification is needed to pave the way for better cooperation and understanding.

4.6. Further perspectives and challenges

Given the negative reputation and lack of trust in legal institutions, all interviewees agree that it is essential to improve the public relations activities of the courts and prosecutors. It is seen as very important to explain the courts’ decisions to the public in a more comprehensive manner, to highlight the diverse achievements in reforming the judiciary, and in particular to illustrate that impartiality is a guiding principle for the work of legal institutions. Above all, they emphasise that judicial proceedings need to be presented in a way that non-experts are able to comprehend.

Improving witness protection, according to the interviewees, also requires special attention.

Representatives of legal institutions from all three countries explain that the protection measures applied by the domestic courts and the police are so far very limited. Many witnesses are in serious danger after the trial. A witness who testifies abroad is protected in the country where the trial takes place but left unprotected as soon as they leave that country. According to the interviewees, state institutions should set up specialised services for witness protection after the trials. For this purpose, it should also cooperate with NGOs that have experience in witness support and understand victims’ needs. Furthermore, the authorities in the communities to which the witness returns after the trial should be encouraged to take measures to guarantee their safety. An alternative network of witness protection needs to be established. As the interviews reveal, improvement of witness protection can only be achieved by better regional cooperation among governments and by cross-border communication of local authorities.

Representatives of the Commissions for Missing Persons in all countries emphasise that the most important challenge still remaining is to gather additional data on undiscovered mass graves. They also point out that exhumation, storing and identification of human remains will require further funding. The interviewees from Bosnia and Serbia say that international support in this area of dealing with the past is still very much welcome and needed. In contrast, the representative of the CMP in Croatia is convinced that institutions in this country are capable of closing this chapter without external assistance. This view is shared by the ICMP, which has now closed its office in Croatia, on the grounds that the Croatian Office for Missing Persons has proved to be capable of conducting the search for missing persons without international assistance.

Representatives of the domestic legal institutions in all three countries are also convinced that international assistance will be needed in the future in order to improve mechanisms of transitional justice. In Bosnia, they state that external actors are welcome in the capacity of facilitators to support processes of state-building, and they should also continue to monitor the implementation of institutional reforms. Furthermore, they are needed as mediators in a polarised society. In Croatia, the expiry of some international organisations’ mandates (OSCE left the country in 2011) is appreciated by the legal experts and seen as a consequence of the international organisations’ assessment that governmental and nongovernmental organisations are well prepared to solve their problems by themselves.

However, the representatives of legal institutions in this country say that international support is still desired, and should take the form of an exchange of know-how and education on topics related to transitional justice. They also think that external assistance is needed to maintain the databases and archives related to war crimes cases. In Serbia, the interviewees also see an ongoing need for international assistance, especially in the field of institutional reforms. At the same time, they insist that any kind of international support should aim to support capacity-building, thus enabling the society concerned to solve its problems on its own.

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