Zagreb/Belgrade/Sarajevo/Podgorica/Priština, August 4th, 2022
On the occasion of the twenty-seventh anniversary of the Military and Police Operation Storm, the regional network of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights calls on the institutions in Croatia and Serbia to cooperate more on the realization of rights and justice for victims of war crimes, and that the highest government officials of the countries affected by the wars of the 1990s contribute more seriously, responsibly, and courageously to peacebuilding and responsible dealing with the wartime past.
According to the report of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights from 2001, more than 600 civilians were killed and more than 22,000 houses were burned during and after Military and Police Operation Strom. More than 150,000 of its former inhabitants, mostly Serbs, left Croatia at that time out of fear for their personal safety, as well as at the persuasion of the Krajina authorities. Their property was destroyed or stolen, and their return was de facto made impossible.
According to HLC data, during the summer of 1995, about 10,000 civilian refugees from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina were detained by members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic 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 Relating to 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 Serbian MUP handed over about 5,000 refugees to the training camp of the Serbian Volunteer Guard of Željko Ražnatović Arkan, where the refugees were subjected to psychological and physical torture.
No victim of the "Storm" in Serbia has the status of a civilian war victim, although, in recent years, Serbian officials have spoken at official commemorations about the necessity of remembering the victims of the Storm. Unfortunately, the victims of Serbian nationality are still hostages of every government in Serbia - their stories, fates, and positions are manipulated for political gain through the media, art, and performances of the highest officials.
Before the courts in the Republic of Croatia, in connection with crimes during and after the Military and Police Operation Oluja, only two final verdicts of conviction were passed for war crimes against the civilian population and war crimes against prisoners of war in Prokljan and Mandići, and for war crimes against the civilian population in Kijani near Gračac, according to data from Documenta - Center for Dealing 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 Croatian army pilots for bombing civilians on the Petrovac road near Kapljuh in the village of Bravsko and in the town of Svodna in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in August 1995. There was no sympathy for the victims from the highest state officials in Croatia.
We know that a society based on the lack of acknowledgment of its mistakes from the past has no perspective of a peaceful future, and we resolutely fulfill our collective responsibility to publicly call on competent institutions to contribute to the knowledge of the truth and to bring justice to the victims.
For this reason, we demand:
- From the prosecutor's offices in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina to cooperate better and more thoroughly in the prosecution of the perpetrators of crimes committed during and after the Military and Police Operation Storm.
- From the Ministry of Croatian Veterans of the Republic of Croatia that the Law on Civilian Victims of the Homeland War, which was passed last year with the accompanying Rulebook, be applied in the spirit of the Constitution, not discriminating against any victim based on their national, ethnic or any other identity, and from the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia to enact a law on civilian war victims that would enable and facilitate the realization of their rights and status, guaranteed by the constitution and international acts valid in Serbia
- From the Prime Minister and President of the Republic of Croatia to issue a sincere and public apology to the victims of war crimes committed by the forces of the Republic of Croatia during and after the Miltary and Police Operation Storm, and from the President of the Republic of Serbia to issue an apology to the citizens who fled Croatia in 1995 and were forcibly mobilized by the police and paramilitary formations. The manual 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 diminishing and relativizing the facts related to the perpetrators and victims of war crimes, and to use the attention and public space to express condolences to all victims
- That at the commemoration of military operations, state officials do not avoid publicly highlighting the names of all fallen civilians, our fellow citizens, regardless of their nationality and/or ethnicity, who were killed during military operations
- That the defendants and those convicted of war crimes before domestic and other courts not be distinguished with state decorations, thereby irresponsibly treating victims of crimes and war veterans who fought in accordance with the provisions and standards of international humanitarian law
- That the facts from the war past are included in school curricula, especially in history classes, in a way that they 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 know what is true and to influence the non-repetition of crimes.
The Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo clearly states - do not leave us a society burdened by the past and divisions, hatred and nationalism! Based on the lessons of the past, responsibly, decisively, and courageously create a better present and future based on cooperation and mutual respect.
Too young to remember, determined not to forget.