Regional Cooperation in Ex-Yugoslavia on the File of the Missing

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) call on the governments in the former Yugoslavia to increase their efforts to release information on whereabouts of the missing persons. Of the 40,000 persons estimated by ICMP as originally missing from the conflicts of the 1990’s, there are still about 17,500 persons missing. The highest number of the missing is in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the fate of up to 13,000 persons is still unknown. There are approximately 2,100 persons still unaccounted for in relation to the Croatia conflict and around 2,200 still missing from the conflict in Kosovo.In an effort to support the governments in the region in meeting their obligations in accounting for missing persons, ICRC and ICMP hold regular meetings where representatives from the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the Republic of Serbia exchange information regarding a variety of issues including recovery and identification operations, funding issues and general plans for supporting the work of with associations of families of the missing. Today’s meeting on regional cooperation is the third consecutive one since July 2006.

According to the representatives of regional governments one of the most pressing issues is to agree upon a protocol on cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and its neighbouring states. Such a protocol between BiH and Croatia and BiH and Serbia would expedite the process of locating, recovering and identifying missing persons across state boundaries. Furthermore, in the specific context of BiH, the Law on Missing Persons must still be implemented and the Missing Persons Institute (MPI) should begin functioning once the administrative procedure of appointments to the MPI Steering Board is finalized by the BiH Council of Ministers.

During the meeting, ICMP and ICRC presented their activities in the Republic of Croatia, Republic of Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Head of the ICRC Delegation in BiH, Henry Fournier, stressed that in his long humanitarian experience he had never seen perseverance and determination that could match the one he has been witnessing in BiH every day. “I sincerely hope that the ICRC would be able to continue supporting your noble efforts to provide bring a peace of heart to thousands of people, who have been, most tragically, left without their relatives. It has been ICRC’s determination since the beginning of the war in BiH and it would remain its priority as long as the ICRC is able to give a substantial support to the families and the authorities of BiH”, said Fournier.

The ICMP Director-General, Ms. Kathryne Bomberger, also noted the accomplishments made by the governments, but stressed that with over 17,000 persons still unaccounted for, “the issue of missing persons remains one of the most challenging human rights issues facing the region today.” She also noted that ICMP has provided assistance in closing over 11,000 missing persons cases in the region through the use of DNA. During the meeting she announced that ICMP has created a global software application for tracking missing persons. This application will soon be available to governments and would be an invaluable tool in assisting the MPI in creating the Central Evidentiary List of Missing Persons.

The participants also agreed that participation of the Republic of Montenegro would be welcome in these meetings. Representatives of the Chairman of Council of Ministers of BiH and the Minister of Foreign Affairs also participated to the meeting.