Monday, May 10, 2010

Serbia Uncovers Mass Grave: A Step Toward Recognizing Responsibility and Accountability

Serbia uncovered a large mass grave on its soil, thought to contain bodies of approximately 250 ethnic Albanians, killed during the 1998-99 civil war in Kosovo (click here to read the story: It is presumed that then President Milosevic's forces moved the bodies from Kosovo to Serbia, to hide war crimes and deny that ethnic Albanians were being killed.
In ackonwledging this fact, Serbia today has shown that it is ready to face and accept responsibility for what happened in Kosovo. In fact, the mass grave, the third one to be discovered since the conflict in Kosovo, was found through a joint effort between Serbia's war crimes prosecution office, and EULEX, the EU mission in Kosovo. Human rights activists in Serbia believe that there may be more mass graves of this nature on Serbian soil, but everyone, including the independent Kosovar leadership, agrees that the Serbian willingness to acknowledge the grave is a positive step. The man who most likely ordered the cover up in the late 1990's, the then top police officer, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is now on trial at the Hague, at the ICTY, for alleged war crimes. And Serbia has been more actively cooperating with the ICTY, assuring this international tribunal that it is serious about true justice and accountability. Several hundred ethnic Albanians are still missing since the Kosovo war, and the uncovering of mass graves and the possible identification of victims may bring closure to families of those who disappeared. Moreover, such positive steps on behalf of the current Serbian leadership signal to the rest of the world that the country has changed, that it has moved on from the dark Milosevic era, and that it is ready to work with international authorities, as well as with neighboring states, on developing good relations for the future. In order to further bring closure to the Kosovar civil war, Serbia may want to consider establishing a truth and reconciliation commission, like South Africa. In the meantime, its war crimes prosecution office has been doing a fine job handling investigations and prosecuting those accused of the most heinous crimes. If Serbia wants to join Europe and to ensure that no more Milosevic's grab power within its territory, it must continue on this path of responsibility and justice.