Accounting for the missing is a fundamental requirement of justice

Alma Dzaferovic, the Head of the War Crimes Department in Tuzla Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office and a member of the BiH High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council

12 March 2015: A recent survey found that an overwhelming majority of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (more than 80 percent) believe that accounting for the missing contributes to post-war recovery and, in the long term, reconciliation, Alma Dzaferovic, the Head of the War Crimes Department in Tuzla Cantonal Prosecutor’s Office and a member of the BiH High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council, wrote in a column that appeared in the RadioSarajevo.ba news portal this week.

“A key element in the effort to account for the missing is to recognize that prosecuting criminals and searching for their victims is not something that affects just families of the missing: it affects everyone. If criminals walk free, citizens cannot rely on the protection of the law,” she wrote. “Also – in practical terms – if criminals walk free they will not be obliged to give up whatever information they may possess regarding the fate of those who are still missing.”

Ms Dzaferovic was writing after participating in a Roundtable conference organized by ICMP in Tuzla. The conference made use of the detailed information laid out in ICMP’s BiH Stocktaking Report, published in December, which examines the strategies that have made it possible to account for over 70 percent of the missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the last two decades and recommends steps to ensure that the effort to account for the remaining missing persons is sustained.

She argued that it is not true that examining the past – asking difficult questions and investigating places where atrocities may have been committed – somehow makes it hard for society to move forward.

“Everything possible must be done (all the more urgent as we complete the second decade since the end of the war) to establish the facts about what happened during the conflict and identify those who committed crimes. This is key to moving forward. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not a country of war criminals: it’s a country where a certain number of citizens committed crimes – and it’s this group that must be brought to justice. When that happens, the rest of us can get on with our lives. The way to sustain the effort to account for the missing as we approach the twentieth anniversary of the end of the war is to uphold the rule of law. Those who committed crimes must be held to account. Those who have suffered anguish for more than 20 years because of these crimes must know that the guilty did not go unpunished.”

The full text of Ms Dzaferovic’s column can be accessed at http://bit.ly/1AnKzAp