The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) hosted a two-day conference in Ohrid, Macedonia, which concluded with specific recommendations to government institutions and international organizations responsible for addressing the fate of the over 2,000 persons still missing from the Kosovo conflict. The Minister of Justice of the Kosovo Provisional institutions of self-governance, Jonuz Salihi, joined the conference today and stated that, “gatherings such as this one today must continue. Families of the missing need the opportunity to meet and work together.”This unique conference brought together a large group of representatives of associations from all communities with missing relatives from the Kosovo conflict and provided them with the opportunity to ask concrete questions, demand straight answers and explore solutions in addressing this important human rights issue.
„Resolving the fate of missing persons from the Kosovo conflict is critical not only to the thousands of relatives who have no news regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones, but to the process of peace and stability in the region. Of the approximately 4,400 persons originally missing from the conflict, half have not been accounted for to date”, stated Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of ICMP. She added that while progress has been made, solutions must be found to locate the over 2,000 persons still unaccounted for.
In this regard, the conference participants focused on the steps that need to be taken to resolve these outstanding cases. Some of their conclusions included:
Additional conflict-related sites need to be discovered. The number of mortal remains recovered by UNMIK has decreased considerably. In 2006, approximately 55 mortal remains were recovered. The Government of Serbia has not conducted excavations relevant to the Kosovo conflict since 2002. However, Serbia has asked ICMP to assist in a reconnaissance visit to a location in southern Serbia in June 2007. There are also allegations of sites in Macedonia and Albania that need to be explored.
Institutions engaged in the missing persons issue need to be strengthened and laws protecting the rights of the relatives need to be implemented. Efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Kosovo Commission on Missing Persons should be undertaken.
Families of the missing must be kept informed. Governments and other authorities must provide accurate and reliable information to family members of the missing.
Allegations of incinerated mortal remains must be addressed. ICMP has offered assistance to monitor such investigations and issue independent reports.
The possibility that incorrect identifications may have been made in the past needs to be explored. This might include either bodies buried by families without following legal identification procedures and/or cases of mistaken identification conducted prior to the use of DNA. The potential of misidentifications may explain why it is difficult to identify the mortal remains stored in the Pristina morgue, even though the bone samples have been tested and DNA profiles generated.
Central Records on Missing Persons need to be created that would house all information received and would track cases of missing persons from excavation to burial. ICMP offered to provide it’s computer program to both the Kosovo and Serbian Commissions on Missing Persons to facilitate this process.
Family associations of missing persons agreed to strengthen their cooperation and communication across ethnic, religious and national lines.