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Bosnian Jewish Leader Champions Panel to Heal Nation’s War Wounds

The leader of the Jewish community here is spearheading an effort to help the nation recover from its devastating civil war.

“The war in Bosnia was finished with the Dayton Peace Accord,” Jakob Finci said, referring to the December 1995 agreement that effectively partitioned Bosnia along Serb, Muslim and Croat ethnic lines.

“The war was finished without a winner, and maybe it is fair to say we have three losing parties. And the three of them have started to write their own histories pretending they won the war. [If we are] teaching our children different histories, we can expect nothing else than a new war in 20 or 30 years.”

During Bosnia’s civil war, which lasted from 1992 through 1995, an estimated 210,000 civilians were killed and 2 million displaced.

The planned Truth and Reconciliation Commission – modeled on a similarly named panel in South Africa – has received support from more than 100 nongovernmental organizations within Bosnia, Finci said.

Privately, all three members of Bosnia’s rotating presidency have indicated they will support the commission, said Neil Kritz, director of the Rule of Law program at the Institute of Peace in Washington, which has been involved in generating discussion about the new panel.

The commission still must gain the formal support of Bosnia’s political parties, something that Finci said he is hoping to achieve during this fall’s national elections.

Candidates running for office in the Nov. 11 voting will be asked if they support the panel, Finci said.

The proposed commission would be different from South Africa’s in several fundamental ways, Finci said.

South Africa’s commission was set up to investigate atrocities committed by the apartheid government and by nonapartheid forces between 1960 and 1994 and to foster reconciliation among South Africans.

The subsequent report, based on the testimony of more than 17,500 people, made recommendations about which human rights violators should be prosecuted, which victims should be compensated and granted amnesty to witnesses that cooperated.

In the case of Bosnia, the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague was set up to prosecute war crimes, Finci said.

The new panel “will not interfere at all with the commission in The Hague,” Finci said.

Instead of recommending prosecution or restitution, the Bosnian commission will focus on allowing ordinary people an opportunity to express guilt or anger lingering from the war and making recommendations to avoid ethnic violence in the future, Finci said.

“I think this will be some kind of psychotherapy for all the people that survived the war in Bosnia,” Finci said.

The commission could make recommendations about monuments or memorial days, as well as about political, education and religious reforms, Kritz said.

The commission’s estimated $12 million to $15 million operating costs would have to be funded through the assistance of the international community, Finci said.

Finci said he and the other proponents of the truth commission are hoping to find a Nobel Peace Prize laureate or former national leader to serve as the commission’s chair.

The remainder of the commission’s staff would include representatives of the country’s various ethnic groups, Finci said.

“Sometimes the question is can you find these people that are acceptable to everyone,” Finci said. “And my usual answer is if there are not 10 or 15 people in this country who are trusted by everyone, there is no reason for this country to exist.”

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