Consultative Meeting on the establishment of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation

Ambassador Delawie’s Remarks at the Consultative Meeting on the establishment of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, February 13, 2017

Thank you President Thaci for convening these officials, colleagues, and practitioners who are focused on helping Kosovo society to build a brighter future.  I am pleased to join you as you explore the possibilities of establishing a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC).

Kosovo has already made important strides on the road to recovery from a terrible war that devastated so many families, and that is still causing far too many too much pain.  Citizens can be rightfully proud of the steps their government has already made on the path toward reconciliation, including your inclusive laws and multi-ethnic government.  Kosovo’s commitment to normalize relations with Serbia is laudable, and real progress has been made that is tangibly benefitting Kosovo citizens; we will continue to work for further progress.

What is clear is that more needs to be done for victims, so their pleas for justice are heard.  A TRC could be a useful measure for doing so, provided that it follows what have become generally accepted international  principles and practices for such Commissions to be credible and effective.   These are not unique to Kosovo, but based on global experiences.  I’d like to take this opportunity to review some of those principles.

  • Impartiality – Mandates should be broad enough to cover crimes and abuses committed by a broad range of actors, and the commission and its staff should come from a diverse background.
  • Independence – Commissions must be free to pursue their mandate without feeling constrained by, or beholden to, political interests. They must have their own budgets and staff. While the Government can pass a law to establish and fund the commission, it should not interfere in the commission’s work and conclusions, which must be independent.
  • Transparency – The commission should belong to the people of Kosovo and must be fully open to public scrutiny. There is no room for secrets in terms of the Commission’s findings or recommendations.  That said, as people voluntarily come forward to participate in the process, there should be processes in place to ensure that they can engage with the commission confidentially where appropriate.
  • Commitment – While anyone who chooses to participate in the process, in particular public hearings, must recognize there is potential risk given the divisive history of the war, the Commission and Government should commit to providing protection when needed. Moreover, we would expect that as individuals come forward and share their diverse memory and experiences, whatever that may be, that the Government and Commission will show them the utmost respect and ensure they are not denigrated or threatened.  With respect to findings and recommendations, there should be an upfront commitment to thoughtful consideration and follow through.
  • Complementary – Truth-seeking can be critical to long-term societal reconciliation, but truth alone will not achieve the results the people of Kosovo deserve. It must be accompanied by steps to repair victims, prosecute those responsible for violent crimes, and make reforms to ensure that these abuses never happen again.
  • Consultative and participatory – As today’s event demonstrates, consultation with a broad array of stakeholders is critically important to the design and implementation of any truth seeking process. Moreover, the ongoing participation of civil society and victims in the process will help ensure broad public ownership of the process and increase its chances of success.

A truth commission can provide a large scale assessment: investigating what happened, listening to a broad range of persons involved and affected, and submitting a public report that explains its findings and offers recommendations for further action.  I am pleased civil society is here today, because you are the experts that can drive this process, you are closest to the victims, and therefore you are closest to the truth.  You are our best monitors of the process as it goes forward, and we welcome your engagement with the process and periodic reports.  Running a credible truth commission is far easier said than done, but once findings are issued, the key to reconciliation is a committed government making a good faith effort to follow through on the recommendations.

Therefore, I hope this broad consultation process will include bringing in Kosovo citizens of all ethnicities, and take into consideration the efforts from the Intergovernmental Commission of Dealing with the Past, and the recommendations of civil society.

We wish you success as you carry forward with consultations.  Facts gained through listening can be a pathway to healing.  The United States will remain your committed partner as you seek the truth, pursue justice, and work together to reconcile from a painful past to a brighter future for all of Kosovo’s communities.