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War crimes denial threatens peace in ex-Yugoslavia: rights body

Hate speech and ultranationalism are threatening peace efforts in the Balkans, despite years of war crimes trials and reconciliation efforts in the nations of former Yugoslavia, Europe’s top rights body said Thursday. The bloody breakup of Yugoslavia saw a string of wars devastate the Balkans, with an estimated 130,000 people killed in the conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo and Slovenia. To help bring the perpetrators of the worst crimes to justice, a series of high-profile trials have been conducted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Despite the court’s efforts and multiple convictions, the Council of Europe said reconciliation efforts were still lacking, thanks in part to lacklustre political will. “The consequences of this failure to conduct broader past-sensitive reforms continue to undermine democratic progress and peace in the region,” the council said in a report. In their report, the council said politicians have been spreading “ethno-nationalist discourse and the denial of atrocities and the glorification of war criminals”. “Denial of genocide and other atrocities, glorification of war criminals and attempts to restore the credibility of persons convicted of war crimes in the 1990s are of serious concern and are proliferating in the region, including at the highest political levels,” the report said. The presence of war criminals — both presumed and convicted assailants — in institutions and public services “has a serious impact on victims and survivors and on 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 has been convicted of crimes against humanity — hinted that they would join forces during local elections in December. Vucic began his political career under Seselj’s tutelage and worked as the Radical Party’s general secretary before serving as information minister in former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s government in the late 1990s. In neighbouring Bosnia, the country’s Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik continues to claim that “there was no genocide in Srebrenica” — where Serb forces killed around 8,000 Muslim men and teenagers. Among several recommendations, the Council of Europe said “state apologies are key to acknowledging the gravity of what happened and in influencing a society’s perception of the victims”. The Council of Europe, which comprises 46 member states, was set up to monitor and uphold human rights in Europe in the wake of World War II.

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