The Western Balkans and the South Caucasus are two regions, which experienced similar grave events after the Cold War while facing similar threats and challenges. The root causes of tensions and conflicts, which led to instances of mass atrocities, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, go back far in the past. In both regions people lived through dictatorships having no respect for human rights. The disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union brought deep rooted tensions oppressed by the dictators for more than half a century back to the surface of political, economic and private relationships.
The paces of peace and reconciliation processes in the two regions have been different. In the Western Balkans the new independent nations – through the intervention and collaboration of international players and the activities of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – embarked on a bumpy path towards peace building following a brutal armed conflict and there are good chances to find long-term and sustainable solutions for the historical problems.
The region of the South Caucasus is unfortunately lagging behind in that regard. The conflicts have protracted and the positions remain ”frozen”. The international players must therefore continue the efforts to find a path leading out of the current situation, which is full of tensions and threats. The responsibility of the international community is enormous in preventing future violent conflicts with a risk of mass atrocities and help setting up a solid framework for handling the challenges by peaceful means.
The Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the new non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the Budapest Centre for the International Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities decided to make a joint attempt to support the reconciliation processes in both regions from the perspective of preventing mass atrocities by organizing a conference which provided a platform to share experiences obtained in the Western Balkans and based on the lessons learned there. These were then used to discuss the opportunities for preventive policies in the South Caucasus.
Both organizers of the conference shared the view that sustainable solutions could only be found through dialogue combined with legal mechanisms to fight impunity as effective means for the prevention of future mass atrocities and the realization of a sustainable reconciliation.
The first panel of the workshop offered the possibility to present the lessons learned in the Western Balkans from the aspects on the role of international criminal jurisdiction. The participants of the workshop exchanged views on the impact of judicial processes on the rapprochement of nations and people. A victim of genocide in Srebrenica shared his views on the progress of reconciliation and peace and gave an insight into the situation from the viewpoint of a victim of genocide. A local NGO presented on the potential role and influence of non-governmental organizations in taking forward the peace process and preventing the recurrence of conflicts.
The second panel devoted attention to the challenges in the South Caucasus. A legal expert shared considerations on the potential role of legal instruments in taking forward reconciliation and the value that the international judicial bodies can create in the region based on the lessons learned in the Western Balkans and other regions. The participants of the conference were able to learn the views and the plans of the government of Azerbaijan to facilitate peace processes, the settlement of regional conflicts, address the issues of territorial integrity and ethnic conflicts and prevent the recurrence of new conflicts and crimes against humanity in its capacity as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. There was a discussion on the new possibilities and chances for cooperation and a presentation of crimes by a local victim and the views of non-governmental organization.
The third panel highlighted the responsibility and activities of international players by focusing on prevention of the most serious crimes and abuses of human rights in the Western Balkans and South Caucasus.
The organizers sincerely believed that the event helped to facilitate finding peaceful solutions, identifying strategies in preventing genocide and mass atrocities in both regions and conducting a dialogue among experts, stakeholders and other actors concerned. The workshop was held under Chatham house rules in an inter-active mood, and in the spirit of dialogue where all participants had the opportunity to express their views and opinions and made constructive suggestions for the way forward.