Week in Review: Testing times for TJ from Kosovo to Burundi

Week in Review: Testing times for TJ from Kosovo to Burundi©UN
Celebrating Kosovo's independence in February 2008, when the country was grateful to the European Union
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This was a bad week for transitional justice, in Kosovo, Tunisia and Burundi. In Kosovo, the authorities are trying to stop the special tribunal charged with trying war crimes committed by UCK rebels between 1998 -2000, explains Pierre Hazan.

That is not surprising given that former UCK commanders including President Hashim Thaçi and his Prime Minister are now in power in Pristina. The Serbs, who feel they have been abandoned by justice in the Balkans, were the primary victims of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the new tribunal, which is officially part of the Kosovo judicial system but based in The Hague to ensure independence. The European Union, which initiated the court, has already warned Kosovo’s leaders that any attempt to sabotage the tribunal will have “negative consequences” for relations between Pristina and the EU.

The President is already trying to undermine it with his plan for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, theoretically in line with good transitional justice principles. But, explains Pierre Hazan, many in the human rights community “are worried about this initiative, which they see as a non-judicial instrument aimed at whitewashing the crimes committed by members of the former rebellion and promoting amnesty, undermining the Tribunal. It would not be the first time in the Balkans that a political leader tried to use a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to short-circuit the work of a criminal court.”

Burundi and Tunisia 

Another truth commission, in Bujumbura, faces real challenges for its competence and credibility, writes transitional justice expert Louis-Marie Nindorera from Burundi, a country whose leaders pulled it out of the International Criminal Court to try to escape justice. “In Burundi decades of violence and impunity have veiled and confused the roles of victims, perpetrators and saviours, often with the explicit will or at least consent of the authorities,” explains Nindorera. “In such conditions, unravelling the chain of responsibilities is a thorny task and a big challenge for the Commission.” And the commission does not have much time. “In January 2018, this Commission enters the last twelve months of its mandate, which may be extended for a further year,” he writes. “The hour of truth is upon us.” 

Finally Tunisia, last hope for a model democratic transition in the wake of the Arab Spring, is worrying the specialists of International Crisis Group, writes our Tunis correspondent Olfa Belhassine. In a new report, the ICG warns against the country “backsliding” into authoritarianism. “Seven years after the political upheavals that led to Ben Ali’s fall, the country appears hostage to a transition without end, which is stirring nostalgia for the old regime,” writes Olfa Belhassine. “Fuelled by economic problems, spiralling price inflation, a weak dinar and lost purchasing power, some voices in the working and middle classes are calling for the return of a strong State and authoritarian governance.” Seven years after the Revolution, the transition is not complete and democracy is still fragile.