Together we remember the victims of the Storm – we call on the institutions to take responsibility and cooperateFiona
Zagreb/Belgrade/Sarajevo/Podgorica/Priština, August 4, 2022.
Together we remember the victims of the Storm – we call on the institutions to take responsibility and cooperate
On the occasion of the twenty-seventh anniversary of the military police operation VRO Oluja (Operation Storm), the regional network of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights calls on institutions in Croatia and Serbia to cooperate more on the issue of rights and justice for victims of war crimes, and that the highest state officials of the countries affected by the wars of the 1990s to contribute more seriously, responsibly and courageously to the building of peace and responsible dealing with the past.
According to the 2001 report of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, during and after VRO Storm, more than 600 civilians were killed and more than 22,000 houses were burned. More than 150,000 of its former inhabitants, mostly Serbs, left Croatia out of fear for their personal safety, and from being persuaded by the Krajina authorities. Their property was destroyed or stolen, and their return was de facto impossible.
According to HLC data, during the summer of 1995, about 10,000 civilian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were detained from the members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia and then handed over to the military authorities of the then Republika Srpska Krajina (RSK) and Republika Srpska (RS). Such forced mobilizations, which represented the grossest violation of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees as well as the Law on Refugees in Serbia, resulted in the loss of at least 54 lives as well as serious physical injuries and psychological consequences for a large number of mobilized men. In the period from August to the end of September 1995, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia handed over about 5,000 refugees to the training camp of the Serbian Volunteer Guard of Željko Ražnatović Arkan, where the refugees underwent psychological and physical torture.
No victim of the “Storm” in Serbia has the status of a civilian victim of the war, although the leaders of Serbia in recent years at official commemorations talk about the necessity of remembering the victims of the Storm. The victims of Serbian nationality are, unfortunately, still hostages of every government in Serbia, and their stories, fates and positions are manipulated for political gain through the media, art and appearances of the highest officials.
In front of the courts in the Republic of Croatia, regarding the crimes during and after the Operation Storm, only two final conviction verdicts were passed for war crimes against the civilian population and war crimes against war prisoners in Prokljan and Mandići, and for war crimes against the civilian population in Kijani near Gračac, according to Documenta data. – Center for Coping with the Past from 2021.
The lack of timely action by the judiciary of the Republic of Croatia became particularly visible to the general public in May 2022, when the Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Serbia filed an indictment against a Croatian army pilot for bombing civilians on the Petrovac road near the town of Kapljuh in the village of Bravsko and in the town of Svodna in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in August 1995. There was no sympathy shown for the victims from the highest state officials in Croatia.
We know that a society based on not acknowledging its past mistakes has no perspective of a peaceful future, and we resolutely fulfill our collective responsibility to publicly call on the competent institutions to contribute to the acknowledgment of the truth and to bring justice to the victims.
For this reason, we require:
- That the prosecutors in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina cooperate better and more deeply in the prosecution of the perpetrators of the crimes long and behind the Operation Storm;
- The Ministry of Croatian Veterans of the Republic of Croatia, the Law for the Civilian Victims of the Homeland War, was passed last year and the Rules of Conduct were implemented in the spirit of the Constitution, so that no victim could be discriminated against on the basis of their national, ethnic identity, as well as the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia to adopt a Law for civilian victims of war that would enable and facilitate the realization of their rights and status, guaranteed by the Constitution and international acts valid in Serbia;
- That the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the Republic of Croatia apologize sincerely to the public for the victims and crimes of the war, that the forces of the Republic of Croatia have led the Operation Storm, and that the Presidents of the Republic of Serbia apologize to the citizens who left from Croatia in 1995 and forcefully mobilized from the police and paramilitary formations. The Handbook for Politicians “How to apologize for crimes” prepared by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights can help them in this
- From the highest political representatives, to refrain from reducing and relativizing the facts related to the perpetrators and victims of war crimes and to use the public attention and space to express condolences for all the victims;
- That during the recording of military operations, state officials do not avoid publicly releasing the names of all fallen civilians, our fellow citizens, regardless of nationality and/or ethnicity, who were killed during military operations;
- That defendants and those convicted of war crimes are not decorated with state decorations from local and other courts, behaving irresponsibly towards victims of crimes and war veterans who have fought in accordance with the provisions and standards of the International Humanitarian Law;
- To include in the school curriculum, especially those of history, facts from the war past that do not serve as a source of pride, but on the contrary, represent a national shame that young people must know about in order to understand what the truth is and to influence not repeating it.
The Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo clearly commands you – do not leave us a society burdened by the past and divisions, hatred and nationalism! Based on the lessons of the past, with responsibility, determination and courage create a better present and future, based on cooperation and mutual respect.
Too young to remember, devoted to not forget!