bosnia report
New Series No: 51-52 April - July 2006
Truth Commission - concerting a story for $20 million?
by Eldin Had┼żovic

'Since November 2005 representatives of B-H’s eight strongest parliamentary parties and two international observers have been busy preparing a draft law on creating a truth commission. One of those representatives is Milan Mutić, wartime director of Kozarski vjesnik, an SDS organ advocating the deportation and murder of civilians. While victims view sceptically the possibility that truth can be reached through consensus among political parties, the financial construction of this project finds itself on the parliamentary agenda.'  Dani (Sarajevo)


The establishment of a Truth Commission for Bosnia-Herzegovina now seems certain to happen. What remains most obscure and most interests the B-H citizens, however, is what the commission will actually do; what its mandate and powers will be; what will be done with its findings. These are issues on which the members of the working group could not agree among themselves, as a result of which parliament will be asked to decide between alternatives.

A secret mission

The fact that the drafting of the law involves individuals who became seriously compromised during the war feeds additional suspicion in the sincerity and validity of both the working group and the future commission. The working group has been meeting in secret since November last year, and it was only in early March 2006 that the public was informed of its activity, even though a general draft law on creating a truth commission already exists. The group, made up of representatives of the eight strongest political parties, was established at the request of the leaders of the House of Representatives: Nikola Š pirić, Martin Raguž and Š efik Džaferović. The initial idea, however, came from Donald Hays, i.e. from the US Institute for Peace (USIP). Serious sources close to the Bosnian parliament insist that if the B-H parliamentarians had tried to reject the initiative, this would have torpedoed negotiations on constitutional change. The work of the group is supervised by two foreign observers: Neil Kritz of USIP and Gordon Bacon of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] , two men with great experience of working within various B-H commissions.

The group’s secretariat is the Dayton Project - Programme for a Civil Dialogue in Bosnia-Herzegovina, an NGO known also as the Donald Hays Plan. It is in reality a logistic support supplied by USIP. The ‘dilemmas’ published on the official website of this organisation provide a telling indicator of the nature of the project: ‘What is the connotation of the word truth? Is it better not to use the term reconciliation? Would the term social rehabilitation be more suitable? Would it be important for the commission to discuss and praise individual human deeds, in order to ease the burden of criminal collective guilt? Should the Commission for Truth work every day? For how many hours?’ The Dayton Project has made ‘offering a deeper understanding of, and perspective on, the war as an aid towards understanding how to avoid repeating factors that lead to war’ into one of its priorities

Do we need such a Commission?

While such leading authorities as Aryeh Neier insist on the establishment of individual responsibility as opposed to reconciliation, and stress that ‘the judicial process is the process by which society heals itself’, domestic politicians are once again looking to commissions to provide the path to truth, oblivious to the negative or minimal effects which similar commissions have had in Chile and Argentina.

The most vocal members of the working group favour a nationally balanced commission, rather than one made up of experts. A good indicator of the ‘professionalism’ of the group is the fact that it takes no interest in the wartime record of its members; they have simply agreed that the members of the future commission must be ‘objective persons of high integrity and credibility’ who will represent ‘the wider B-H population and reflect the state’s national, geographic and gender makeup’. One place on the commission will be reserved for a foreigner; it has not yet been decided whether he might not also be its president. An additional enticement for the post might be the pay, which will match that of a B-H constitutional court judge. The cost of the whole project has not been worked out, but there is talk of a sum between 13 and 20 million dollars. The Swedish agency SIDA has promised to contribute, but some of the money will come from the pockets of B-H citizens.

The director of the Research and Documentation Centre, Mirsad Tokača, speaks about the inadequacy of the whole concept and warns: ‘The first thing one notices is that the commission is to limit its work to post-1990 events. But Gazimestan took place much earlier. Generally speaking, preparations for the war began much earlier, and this too is a truth that needs to be established.’ The draft law mentions the war only in the context of the need to ‘explain the facts, nature and motivation of the infringement of human rights’. Tokača says angrily: ‘What human rights! We are dealing with a fundamental breach of international criminal law. We are talking about genocide.’

Š efik Džafarević says: ‘We need a commission, we must set it up. To be sure, truth is for the courts; but there are many events that will not be brought before a court, facts that need to be established. Thus, for example, RS interior minister Dragan Andan has produced an unbelievable number for Serbs who died in Sarajevo, and I think it is high time that we establish what the real number is.’

The Association of RS Camp Inmates also supports the establishment of a commission. Its president Slavko Jovičić says: ‘The commission cannot bring about reconciliation, but it can establish the truth. I want everything to be explained, and individuals to be brought to account. We will not accept, however, a commission composed of representatives of the governmental parties, because they brought about the evil. The commission must include victims’ representatives of all nationalities. We are not seeking a balance in quantity of crime, but justice. The commission must have a mandate to demand all the data it needs - no more hiding them in desk drawers. People like Mutić should be excluded.’ HVIDRA president Anđelko Barun adds that truth is needed and welcome, but admits that he is not following closely the events associated with the projected commission.

Truth and justice in politicians’ hands

The fact is that truth and justice have long ago moved from the domain of fact-finding to the domain of politics, while thanks to our inert politicians foreign organisations are supplying us with ready-made solutions to problems which for us are of existential importance. Jakop Finci, for one, long ago stated that ‘war criminals are those who have been found guilty by the Tribunal’. The fact is, however, that the Tribunal is gradually winding down, and cases are being transferred to domestic courts. Does it mean that after the Tribunal’s closure, no one could ever be proclaimed a war criminal?

Can the commission replace a consultative process, a confrontation with crimes committed by one’s own side, which is something we need far more? Will the commission have the power to amnesty those who have admitted their guilt, as in South Africa? The victims’ families ask whether the commission could also secure justice. The Association of Women of Prijedor argues that a commission for truth would have to include the victims’ families and be based on an open dialogue. They are shocked by the fact that a man whom they consider directly responsible for the death of 3,000 innocent people was included in the law-drafting group. ‘We see Mile Mutić’s appointment as another blow to the families of the murdered and disappeared from Prijedor, which for years now have been waiting to bury properly the bodies of their relatives, and to see those responsible for their death in prison. We expect the parliamentarians immediately to exclude Mutić from the working group. Truth cannot be established in secret meetings and through excluding the public.’

As things stand, the working group has to come up with alternative solutions for every contentious issue: these they will submit to the parliament. By far the most contentious issue is that of the commission’s powers. One member of the working group, Momčilo Novaković, believes that national parity is not a crucial question for the commission, but insists that the commission should gather data only from those bodies and individuals that surrender them willingly. It should be mentioned that his own official CV says nothing about what he did in the war. He says: ‘I was mobilised into the RS army for work behind the lines.’

The truth which the commission reaches will depend directly on whether it will have the right to full access to data held by institutions (including political parties) and individuals; to summon witnesses; and to visit without advance notice any place or institution. If the work of the commission has to depend on the good will of eventual witnesses, however, the truth it reaches will be of the same nature as that which Kozarski vjesnik, under the direction of Mile Mutić, used to establish for the Croats and Bosniaks of Prijedor, whose posthumous remains are being collected at Jakarina Kosa and other mass graves.



The idea of a commission for truth (and sometimes also reconciliation) is the brain child of Jakob Finci and USIP vice-president Neil Kritz. It is explained in their essay A Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Bosnia-Herzegovina: an idea whose time has come. Relying on quotations from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, they argue that such a commission is indispensable. The working group includes Alma Čolo (SDA), Besima Borić (SDP), Lidija Bradara (HDZ), Remzija Kadrić (SB-H), Mile Mutić (SPRS) Momčilo Novaković (SDS), Nebojša Radmanović (SNDS) and Vinko Radovanović (PDP).

Translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 10 March 2006.




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