From International Courts to Grassroots Organizing: Obstacles to Transitional Justice in the Balkans

Part of the Springer Series in Transitional Justice book series (SSTJ)


Most research on transitional justice in the Balkans focuses on international mechanisms, particularly the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Little attention has been given to domestic responses because, until recently, there has been relatively little domestic participation and organizing around the topic of transitional justice. Our study seeks to fill this gap by examining the establishment of the Regional Truth Commission for the Former Yugoslavia (RECOM), which began officially in 2006. Using insights from social movement theory and literature on transnational advocacy networks, we identify the conditions necessary for a regional justice movement to succeed. Drawing upon interviews, survey research, as well as secondary material, we provide an interpretive analysis of RECOM, identifying the obstacles to its development, as well as the impact and role of international actors. We contend that although justice and peace are moving forward in the Balkans, ongoing dilemmas underscore important lessons about transitional justice; specifically, grassroots efforts to promote transitional justice must overcome significant challenges in defining issues, creating coalitions, and engaging the state. While international actors have thus far focused primarily on the ICTY, they can and should support grassroots efforts.


Civil Society Personal Interview Restorative Justice International Forum Transitional Justice 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Akhavan, P. 1998. Justice in the Hague, peace in the former Yugoslavia? A commentary on the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Human Rights Quarterly 20(4): 737–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amnesty International. 2010. Behind a wall of silence: Prosecution of war crimes in Croatia. London: Amnesty International.Google Scholar
  3. Backer, D. 2003. Civil society and transitional justice: Possibilities, patterns and prospects. Journal of Human Rights 2: 297–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bickford, L. 2000. Human rights archives and research on historical memory: Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. Latin American Research Review 25(2): 160–182.Google Scholar
  5. Bohlander, M. 2003. Last exit Bosnia: Transferring war crimes prosecution from the international tribunal to domestic courts. Criminal Law Forum 14: 59–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brahm, E. 2007. Truth and consequences: The impact of truth commissions in transitional societies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  7. Dickinson, L.A. 2003. The relationship between hybrid courts and international courts: The case of Kosovo. New England Law Review 37(4): 1059–1072.Google Scholar
  8. Donlon, F. 2008. Rule of law: From the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to the War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Deconstructing the reconstruction: Human rights and the rule of law in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina, ed. D. Haynes, 257–284. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  9. Dragovic-Soso, J., and E. Gordy. 2010. Coming to terms with the past: Transitional justice and reconciliation in post-Yugoslav lands. In New perspectives on Yugoslavia: Key issues and controversies, ed. D. Djokic and J. Ker-Lindsay, 193–212. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Drumbl, Mark. 2007. Atrocity, punishment, and international law. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fletcher, L., H. Weinstein, and J. Rowen. 2009. Context, timings and the dynamics of transitional justice: A historical perspective. Human Rights Quarterly 31(1): 163–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Forsythe, D. 2011. The politics of prisoner abuse: The United States and enemy prisoners after 9/11. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gaffney, C., and Alic, A. 2008. First regional truth commission runs into doubts. Balkan Insight, 5 August.Google Scholar
  14. Grodsky, B. 2007. Looking for Solidarność in central Asia: The role of human rights organizations in political change. Slavic Review 66(3): 442–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Grodsky, B. 2009. International prosecutions and domestic politics: The use of truth commissions as compromise justice in Serbia and Croatia. International Studies Review 11(4): 687–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hagan, J. 2003. Justice in the Balkans: Prosecuting war crimes in the Hague Tribunal. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  17. Hampson, F. 1998. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the reluctant witness. International and Comparative Law Quarterly 47: 50–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hayden, R.M. n.d. Justice presumed and assistance denied: The Yugoslav Tribunal as obstruction to economic recovery. Unpublished Paper.Google Scholar
  19. Hayner, P.B. 2002. Unspeakable truths: Confronting state terror and atrocity. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Heil, A.L., Jr. 2000. A truth and reconciliation commission for Bosnia and Herzegovina? Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 26, June.Google Scholar
  21. Humanitarian Law Center. 2006. Transitional justice report Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, 1999–2005. Belgrade: Humanitarian Law Center.Google Scholar
  22. International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. 2004. South East Europe Public Agenda Survey. Accessed 4 April 2002.
  23. International Republican Institute. 2006. Internal survey.Google Scholar
  24. Keck, M., and K. Sikkink. 1998. Activists beyond borders: Advocacy networks in international politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kerr, R. 2004. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: An exercise in law, politics, and diplomacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kurze, A. 2010. Learning how to throw the boomerang: Justice and human rights activism after mass atrocities in the Balkans. Paper presented at the 2010 Annual Convention of the International Study Association, New Orleans, LA, February 20.Google Scholar
  27. Lamont, C. 2010. International criminal justice and the politics of compliance. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  28. Mahieu, S. 2004. Commanders vs. perpetrators? Post-war justice in the former Yugoslavia—The Ovcara Trials before the ICTY and domestic courts. Paper presented at Europa-University Viadrina, Frankfurt, Germany, August 7.Google Scholar
  29. Meyer, David S., and Debra C. Minkoff. 2004. Conceptualizing Political Opportunity. Social Forces 82(4): 1457–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. McEvoy, K., and L. McGregor. 2008. Transitional justice from below: Grassroots activism and the struggle for change. Portland, OR: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  31. McCarthy, J.D., and M.N. Zald. 1987. Resource mobilization and social movements: A partial theory. In: Social Movements: Perspectives and Issues. Ed. S.M. Buechler and F.K. Cylke. 1997. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, California. pp 149–172.Google Scholar
  32. McMahon, P.C., and D. Forsythe. 2008. The ICTY’s impact on Serbia: Judicial romanticism meets network politics. Human Rights Quarterly 30(2): 412–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McMahon, P.C., and Western, J. 2011. The Balkans after Mladic. Foreign Affairs. Accessed 23 June 2011.
  34. Meernik, J. 2005. Justice and peace? How the International Criminal Tribunal affects societal peace in Bosnia. Journal of Peace Research 42(3): 271–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nettelfield, L. 2010. Courting democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Hague Tribunal’s impact in a postwar state. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Olsen, T.D., L.A. Payne, and A.G. Reiter. 2010. Transitional justice in balance: Comparing ­processes, weighing efficacy. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.Google Scholar
  37. Orentlicher, D. 2008. Shrinking the space of denial: The impact of the ICTY in Serbia. New York, NY: Open Society Institute.Google Scholar
  38. Paust, J., M.C. Bassiouni, M. Scharf, J. Gurule, L. Sadat, B. Zagaris, and S.A. Williams. 2006. Human rights module: On crimes against humanity, genocide, other crimes against human rights, and war crimes. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.Google Scholar
  39. Peskin, V. 2008. International Justice in Rwanda and the Balkans (Cambridge 2008).Google Scholar
  40. Peskin, V. 2009. International justice in Rwanda and the Balkans. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Peskin, V., and M. Boduszynski. 2003. International justice and domestic politics: Post-Tudjman Croatia and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Europe-Asia Studies 55: 1117–1142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rangelov, I. 2004. International law and local ideology in Serbia. Peace Review 16(3): 331–337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. RECOM. 2009. Report about the consultative process on the instruments of truth-seeking about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights in post-Yugoslav countries, May 2006-June 2009. Belgrade: Humanitarian Law Center.Google Scholar
  44. RECOM. 2011a. The consultation process on the establishment of the facts about war crimes and other gross violations of human rights committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Belgrade: Humanitarian Law Center.Google Scholar
  45. RECOM. 2011b. Process RECOM financial report for period December 15, 2008-August 31, 2011.
  46. RECOM. 2011c. RECOM development process—Report, May 2006–August 2011.
  47. Risse, T., S. Ropp, and K. Sikkink. 1999. The power of human rights: International norms and domestic change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Snyder, J., and L. Vinjamuri. 2003/2004. Trials and errors: Principle and pragmatism in strategies of international justice. International Security 28(3): 5–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stover, E., and H. Weinstein. 2004. My neighbor, my enemy: Justice and community in the aftermath of mass atrocity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Subotic, J. 2009. Hijacked justice: Dealing with the past in the Balkans. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Tarrow, S. 2005. The new transnational activism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Treves, T., M.F. di Rattalma, A. Tanzi, A. Fodella, C. Pitea, and C. Ragni. 2005. Civil society, international courts and compliance bodies. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. United Nations. 2003. Fifth committee takes up 2004–2005 budgets for Rwanda, former Yugoslavia tribunals (Press Release).
  54. van der Merwe, H., V. Baxter, and A.R. Chapman. 2009. Assessing the impact of transitional justice: Challenges for empirical research. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Women’s and Gender Studies ProgramUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnLincolnUSA

Personalised recommendations