Tag Archives: Serbia

Addressing systemic obstacles to restitution in Kosovo: Legal aid as a fact finding tool

by Massimo Moratti

In post conflict settings in which internally displaced persons (IDPs) seek to regain possession of their properties, the provision of legal aid becomes an essential service for the protection of their rights in the place of origin. The importance of such services is even greater when significant barriers arise between the place of origin of the IDPs and the place where they are actually displaced. These barriers may not only consist in the physical distance between the two places, but also in the fact that the place of origin of IDPs (in this case, Kosovo), and the place of displacement of IDPs (Serbia) hold diametrically opposed views on the future of Kosovo and are evolving into two separate legal systems with little or no institutional communication. Phone lines, mail and official communication are interrupted and, pending reciprocal recognition or an overall settlement of the issue, their resumption cannot be envisaged in the immediate future.

For these reasons, the Delegation of the European Union to Serbia has partnered with the Serbian authorities to provide legal aid services to IDPs from Kosovo as well as refugees from Bosnia and Croatia through Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) funding. Continue reading

Back to the Balkans – upcoming guest postings on restitution issues in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo

by Rhodri C. Williams

It is a special pleasure for me to announce upcoming guest postings by two old friends and colleagues from the early 2000s, when we were spending all our time monitoring property restitution for the OSCE Mission to Bosnia (including many quality hours in our adjunct office at Sarajevo’s finest čevabdžinica).

First out is repeat TN guest-author Massimo Moratti, who in earlier incarnations brought property restitution to Prijedor and helped to found one of Bosnia’s first extreme sports clubs, but is now engaged as the Team Leader for a legal advising project assisting IDPs from Kosovo in Serbia (full disclosure: I have been brought on as a consultant to the project to provide occasional help with training and legal strategy). Massimo will begin with a piece describing his team’s efforts to build on their individual casework in generating findings indicating which systemic problems still continue to block property restitution and return. This piece is meant to be the first in a series of guest-postings that will highlight new reports generated by the project as they are published.

The issue of durable solutions for Kosovo IDPs is one of the legacies of the 1990s conflicts in the Western Balkans that has slipped so far from the limelight that many people may assume it no longer exists. I wrote about the issue for Brookings last year, focusing on the steps that the Serbian authorities were taking to facilitate integration of IDPs without precluding their eventual right to return. However, Massimo’s pieces will focus on the responsibility of the (de facto, depending on your viewpoint) authorities in Kosovo, as well as their international partners, to respect IDPs’ property rights and create conditions for their voluntary return.

In addition, my mentor in all things Bosnian, Halisa Skopljak, will provide a first time guest posting highlighting emerging judicial practice in Bosnia that threatens to roll back many of the gains made by a post-conflict property restitution process formally deemed complete nearly a decade ago. Halisa, who monitors implementation of the Bosnian criminal codes at the OSCE and graduated in 2010 from Law School in Travnik, will provide an overview of recent jurisprudence in the Serb entity of Bosnia requiring reinstated property claimants to pay exorbitant costs to wartime occupants for alleged improvements.

The following guest-postings have now been published:

Milica Matijevic and Massimo Moratti, Mainstreaming IDP principles in capacity building efforts: A chance missed in Kosovo (13 July 2012)

-Milica Matijevic and Massimo Moratti, In search of a duty-bearer: No remedy for destruction of property during Kosovo’s international supervision (15 May 2012)

-Halisa Skopljak, Unfinished business: Why return issues remain relevant in the process of European integration (03 April 2012)

-Massimo Moratti, Addressing systemic obstacles to restitution in Kosovo: Legal aid as a fact finding tool (23 March 2012)

Week in links – Week 49/2011

Very briefly this week:

IDMC has much of interest, including updates on land restitution in Colombia, forced evictions of Roma in Serbia, and an ongoing crackdown on West Papua. Of most interest is a new report on land rights and ethnic conflict in Northeast India, but I won’t go into more detail here as I am quite hopeful that the author, Anne-Kathrin Glatz, will shortly be introducing the issue in more detail in a guest-posting. Finally, a new research report is available on ‘unlocking’ situations of protracted refugee and IDP displacement.

Meanwhile, Antoine Buyse of the ECHR Blog provides an enlightening summary of a new European Court of Human Rights judgment – in the case of Gladysheva v Russia – involving the rights to property and the the home. On the property side, the Court finds an unsurprising violation in the annulment of the applicant’s purchase of an apartment from the person who had fraudulently privatized it (pointing out that the privatization resulted from the state’s failure of due diligence). On the housing side, the Court condemns the summary eviction proceedings initiated as a result and orders the equivalent of restitution (restoration of title and quashing of the eviction order). Antoine points out the significance of some particularly strong dictum on the centrality of the right to the home:

This judgment sends a clear signal that national authorities should take housing rights, specifically the protection of the home, seriously. Under the ECHR, this is more than a simple property issue – respect for the home also has important social and other connotations which strengthen the protective umbrella of the ECHR (the issue of attachment to a home counts) in such cases. Individual interests based on this should always be taken into account by states when interfering with housing rights. To put it differently, human rights start at home!

Serbia masters the difference between restitution and restitution

by Rhodri C. Williams

As part of its EU bid, Serbia has passed a law allowing for the restitution of property nationalized during the Cold War. Curious that the EU should take a strong stand on principle when it comes to rights extinguished three generations ago through distasteful but not necessarily illegal expropriation proceedings, while giving neighboring Croatia a pass on rights extinguished much more recently through acts now unambiguously deemed crimes against humanity. One also wonders whether the EU is making similar headway clarifying the intricacies of the restitution concept to the authorities it oversees in Kosovo. All grist for a much longer post if I only had the time…

Housing, land and property issues obstruct integration of IDPs in protracted displacement

by Nadine Walicki

Nadine Walicki is a country analyst and advisor on protracted internal displacement at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). As previously reported on TN, the reports referred to below as well as other key relevant documents are available on the IDMC durable solutions web page.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in protracted displacement in some 40 countries. These are situations where solutions to displacement are absent or inadequate and IDPs cannot fully enjoy their rights as a result. Housing, land and property issues are usually central to the resolution of protracted displacement. This applies to the homes IDPs leave behind and the new ones they build after fleeing. Many IDPs have yet to receive a remedy for property lost or destroyed at their place of origin, while they live in substandard housing and struggle to access land in their area of displacement.

In early 2011, displacement experts gathered at an international seminar to discuss the potential of local integration as a solution to protracted displacement. Case studies on local integration of IDPs in Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Serbia, Sudan (southern) and Uganda were prepared to serve as the basis for the discussion. The result was a Statement of Principles and a compilation of good practices and recommendations, which were recently published in the seminar report. Among other key issues, seminar participants outlined several housing, land and property challenges that obstruct local integration of IDPs in protracted displacement. These include tenure insecurity, lack of effective mechanisms to restore property rights, limited access to land, inadequate housing, as well as lack of legal frameworks and access to justice.

Continue reading

Yugoslavia Tribunal issues Gotovina judgment – discriminatory property laws deemed persecution

by Rhodri C. Williams

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) today convicted two Croatian Generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač, and acquitted one, Ivan Čermak, of charges of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. The charges were related to crimes committed during the Operation Storm military campaign between July and September 1995, during which Croatian forces reasserted control over the breakaway Krajina region and displaced as many as 250,000 Croatian Serbs to Bosnia and Serbia.

The Storm campaign has been described both as the largest land offensive in Europe since World War II and as the single most egregious act of ethnic cleansing in the first round of fighting surrounding the breakup of the former Yugoslavia (the consecutive expulsions of Kosovo Albanians and Serbs in the 1999 Kosovo conflict would give it a run later). While I have not yet had time to read the full decision (which weighs in at hundreds of pages), the ICTY press release and summary of the judgment are more accessible and provide a picture of an important and sweeping ruling.

The Court appears to have taken further steps to shift the post-Cold War phenomenon of ethnic cleansing more clearly into the legal category of crimes against humanity involving persecution. In doing so, they have provided an important (and overdue) recognition of the central role that administrative confiscation and reallocation of property and homes play in consolidating such acts. Whether this ruling will have an impact on the somewhat murky negotiations now going on between Croatia and Serbia over compensation for the effects of these acts – in the form of the permanent loss of many Croatian Serb homes – is another question.

Continue reading

Choosing in the absence of choice: Protracted displacement and integration

by Rhodri C. Williams

This week, my blogging is likely to suffer a bit as a result of my participation in a timely and interesting meeting on protracted displacement. The conference – or more accurately, the “Second Expert Seminar on Protracted Internal Displacement” – is supported by a dedicated webpage at IDMC with a good overview of what will be discussed and a useful selection of background documents.

The prior ‘first expert seminar’ in 2007 addressed the problem of protracted internal displacement quite broadly and provided an important service by simply defining it. The definition selected departed somewhat from those proposed in the past for for protracted refugee situations in that it dispensed with minimum durations of displacement or numbers of people affected in favor of focusing on the obstacles posed to internally displaced persons’ (IDPs’) rights and dignity by the sheer fact that prospects for voluntary durable solutions remain indefinitely remote.

The current seminar focuses on local integration as a solution to displacement. As described in my background paper on Serbia, as well as the five other highly informative case-studies commissioned for this meeting, local integration may often be inevitable but is rarely a popular political choice. For instance, in conflict-related displacement situations, integration may be seen by the authorities and even IDPs themselves as undermining policies meant to ensure the reintegration of breakaway regions through mass return.

Continue reading

Followup on Serbian Srebrenica condemnation

by Rhodri C. Williams

First of all, hope all my readers in countries that go in for Easter break (the otherwise sober Scandinavians are rather extravagant on this point) had a nice one. With the two month anniversary of this little blog coming up on Thursday, I was really pleased to see that hits remained relatively steady in my absence.

Meanwhile, in following up on my last post from last week, I thought it worth noting that the English translation of the Serbian Parliament’s statement condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in neighboring Bosnia can now be downloaded in full (directly from here or if you prefer a bit of context, from the Parliament’s website, by scrolling down the right-hand column).

Beyond the general significance and the shortcomings of the resolution, discussed last week, the full text provides a few more specific points of interest. One is the preamble’s explicit recognition of Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity:

…Aimed at ensuring lasting peace and stability in the Western Balkans region, as well as further improvement of friendly relations among the states of the former Yugoslavia based on the respect for international law and territorial integrity and sovereignty of all member states of the United Nations, including Bosnia and Herzegovina…

While the limitation to UN Member States is a clear signal that Kosovo is not yet invited to bask in the warmth of friendly relations, this statement may in fact be the most significant passage of the text for Bosnia, in light of its protracted ethno-political stalemate. As noted in an article in this week’s Economist:

The underlying trends are good. As [Serbian Foreign Minister] Jeremic points out, virtually unnoticed in the uproar over the Srebrenica apology was a Serbian commitment in the resolution to Bosnia’s territorial integrity …. This comes at a time when Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, the Serb part of Bosnia, is talking openly about secession. “There can be no serious threat to Bosnia’s integrity as long as Serbia supports it,” says Mr Jeremic.

For those of us who have nervously watched debates over partition lurch through the post-Yugoslav political discourse during the past decade, the specific significance of this statement seems clear. Barring a fairly dramatic change of policy, this short paragraph has driven a stake into the heart of proposals such as that by which Serbia would annex Bosnia’s Serb majority areas as compensation for renouncing claims to Albanian-majority areas of Kosovo. Which, all in all, is probably a rather good thing.

Meanwhile, the third operative paragraph of the Resolution is also interesting in that it implies either a surprisingly subversive or a surprisingly clueless approach to Bosnia’s ethnic politics. The paragraph reads as follows:

The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia calls upon all the former conflicting sides in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as in the other states of the former Yugoslavia, to continue the process of reconciliation and strengthening of the conditions for common life based on national equality and full observance of human and minority rights and freedoms so that the committed crimes would never be repeated.

The curious aspect of this text is the fact that it mentions ‘national equality’ and ‘minority rights’ in the same breath, as though there were no tension between the two concepts. As observers of Bosnia, in particular, will note, the most numerically significant national minorities in Bosnia – the Serbs and the Croats – have vigorously resisted being labeled as such. These objections arise out of concern that minority status would somehow water down – rather than complement – the strict equality they and the Muslim Bosniaks – who comprise a plurality of the population – enjoy as the three ‘constituent peoples’ recognized under the 1995 Constitution incorporated in the Dayton Accords.

From this perspective, it could not have pleased nationalist Serbs in Bosnia that the text mentioned minority rights at all. The inclusion of this language may again have been indicative of a Kosovo-related subtext (given Serbian offers to recognize Albanian minority rights in exchange for retaining sovereignty – and criticism of the Kosovar Albanian majority for not protecting the local Serb minority). However, it comes at a particularly sensitive moment, with the Bosnian authorities facing the need to implement a recent European Court of Human Rights decision in which representatives of smaller minority groups not accorded constituent people status challenged the constitutional system of quotas that effectively barred them from higher office (for analysis of the decision, see the ECHR Blog here and the EJIL blog here).

While these may seem like relatively minor points, I would argue that they are not. The war in Bosnia that culminated with the horrific killings in Srebrenica could scarcely have happened without the active meddling of its powerful neighbors, Serbia and Croatia. In this context, the most appropriate way for Serbia to express its remorse for Srebrenica and ensure that such events cannot take place again may be a simple and clear renunciation of any further interest in destabilizing Bosnia’s fragile post-war repose.

Happy Easter – and good on the Serbian Parliament

Just a quick administrative note to say that I will be departing this afternoon for a long Easter weekend in my wife’s ancestral village in the Åland archipelago in Finland. Pending further arrangements with our phone carrier there, I will be safely outside the blogosphere, so please don’t expect any new posts until early next week.

In the meantime, I thought it might be worth giving the Serbian Parliament its due for issuing a resolution condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia. Although the text of the resolution does not yet seem to be available in English, lots of interesting reports are new available, including by the NY Times, Euronews (with video) and the European Voice (by an old friend, Toby Vogel).

There is, of course, plenty to find fault with. It took long enough, came at a convenient time (now that Serbia safely dodged the bullet of a finding of liability for genocide in the 2007 ICJ decision in Bosnia v Serbia), and has not yet been accompanied by the handover of Ratko Mladic, who is accused of engineering the massacre and rumored to still be in hiding in Serbia. The good legislators also failed to find the strength to refer to the “g-word” itself, despite established judicial precedent on this point. Moreover, as the odious Radical Party pointed out, the resolution would probably not have come about unless as a result of international pressure.

On the other hand, what of it? International pressure is not always a bad thing, and this comes as another example of the very real soft power the EU accrues by means of remaining committed to the enlargement process. And Ratko must certainly be counting time; the fact that the earlier arrest and handover of the more charismatic (well, to some) Radovan Karadzic did not bring the heavens crashing down on Belgrade testifies to that.

And finally, conditional and caveated as it may be, this is an on-the-record apology of the type that many countries continue after decades to waste time, energy and political capital resisting. It is a milestone and one that cannot have been easy to achieve. When I consider the hysterical reaction the US has witnessed to the passage of a relatively innocuous piece of domestic  legislation on health care reform (see Frank Rich in the NY times, here), I begin to appreciate the difficulty Serbian parliamentarians face – as the representatives of constituencies conditioned by fifteen years of denial – in stating before the world that their country had been complicit in one of the most loathsome acts of post-Cold War history.

Evo, svaka čast i neka bude mir.