BiH Should Accede to the ICMP Agreement

Bosnia and Herzegovina has done more than any other country to find and identify persons missing as a result of conflict. Of the 30,000 persons who were missing in 1995, more than 23,000 have been found – a ratio that has not been equaled anywhere in the world.

This unprecedented achievement has been possible through the support and cooperation of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). ICMP was established in 1996 initially to work with the countries of the former Yugoslavia to locate and identify persons missing from the conflicts of the 1990s.  ICMP assisted by bringing all the stakeholders from the region together – government authorities,  judicial bodies and technical experts, international organizations, families of the missing and others – to forge a common and effective strategy. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, these stakeholders have worked with the BIH Missing Persons Institute, which, for more than a decade has coordinated the search for the missing, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, role in the conflict, or allegiance.

The process in Bosnia and Herzegovina is focused on finding the missing – not on finding the missing from one or other particular community – and this is borne out by the numbers. Of those reported missing by the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 75 percent have been identified; of those reported missing by Republika Srpska, 76 percent have been identified.

The authorities throughout the former Yugoslavia have worked with ICMP to set in place effective missing persons policies and, as a result, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s neighbors, where the numbers were much smaller, have also been able to account for a large proportion of those who were missing.

Since 2004, because of its success in the Western Balkans, ICMP has been invited by governments all over the world to help account for persons who have gone missing as a result of conflict, natural disasters, people trafficking and other causes. Today, in addition to the Western Balkans, ICMP is operating programs related to Iraq, Syria and Colombia, and providing a broad range of assistance to many more countries, from DNA testing to recommending legislative and civil society empowerment strategies.

Given the global challenge of missing persons for involuntary reasons, and the need for a global mechanism to address that challenge, in 2014 ICMP became a treaty-based international organization. Under the terms of the ICMP Agreement, ICMP moved its headquarters to The Hague, the Netherlands. Nine countries are currently signatory states of the ICMP Agreement and since 2016, the Agreement has been open for accession to all states.

ICMP is encouraging all the countries in the Western Balkans to accede to the ICMP Agreement and to become members of ICMP’s Conference of States Parties. So far, Serbia has signed and ratified the Agreement.

On 5 July, the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted in favor of signing the ICMP Agreement. Earlier, the Council of Ministers and the BIH Presidency had given the green light.

When the BIH House of Peoples reconvenes on 28 September, after the summer recess, it will have an opportunity to reaffirm this country’s commitment to protecting the rights of families of the missing. By giving its consent for Bosnia and Herzegovina to ratify the ICMP Agreement, members of the House of Peoples will demonstrate a powerful commitment to strengthening the rule of law, and promoting and protecting the rights of families to truth and justice. After a positive vote in the House of Peoples, it will be up to the BiH Presidency to adopt a decision for BIH to accede to the Agreement. Doing so will not entail any financial cost for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This country has led the world in finding and identifying the missing through a law-based and completely non-discriminatory process. I sincerely hope that at their next session the members of the House of Peoples will approve the proposal for Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign the ICMP Agreement. This will help to ensure that what has been achieved in this country is recognized, and that families of the missing throughout the world benefit from the hard but valuable lessons that have been learned here.

Matthew Holiday
Head of ICMP Western Balkans Program