In Sarajevo on 10 July, the Commissioners of the International Commission on Missing Persons held their 17th plenary meeting since ICMP was founded in 1996, and their first meeting since the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg signed a Framework Agreement in December last year establishing ICMP as a treaty-based international organization.
Former US Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Thomas Miller chaired the meeting, which was attended by Commissioners Queen Noor of Jordan, Wim Kok of the Netherlands, Knut Vollebaek of Norway, and Alistair Burt of the UK. Commissioner Rolf Ekeus of Sweden was unable to attend. ICMP Directors attended the meeting led by Director-General Kathryne Bomberger.
The Commissioners adopted Rules of Procedure in accordance with ICMP’s new international agreement and elected Thomas Miller as chair of the Board of Commissioners. They also reviewed and adopted ICMP’s work plan for the next three years.
In the period 2015 to 2018, ICMP’s core objective will be to strengthen the capacity of the global community to address the problem of missing persons, by defining the nature and extent of the challenge and formulating and applying effective strategies to meet it. ICMP will move its headquarters to The Hague in 2015, but will continue its Western Balkans program at least until the end of 2016.
After their plenary meeting, the Commissioners met representatives of the Regional Coordination of Associations of Families of Missing Persons from the former Yugoslavia. Congratulating the Regional Coordination on their successful efforts to hold the authorities in the region to account. The families of the missing urged the Commissioners to lobby for the establishment of a single, unified regional list of missing persons.
At a meeting with the directors of the BiH Missing Persons Institute (MPI), the Croatian Government Commission on Missing Persons and the Serbian Commission for Missing Persons, the Commissioners welcomed Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s signing of a missing persons protocol this year, as well as the near finalization of a protocol to be signed by Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They also welcomed the completion and harmonization of Croatian and Serbian lists of missing persons and urged the regional authorities to establish the regional list on missing persons.
Meeting the Chair of the BiH Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdic, the Commissioners noted that Bosnia and Herzegovina has accounted for more than 70 percent of the missing – around 23,000 people, a feat unmatched anywhere else in the world. ICMP has helped to identify more than 14,500 of the missing using DNA.
The Commissioners assured Chairman Zvizdic that while ICMP will move its headquarters from Sarajevo to The Hague this year, it will support the effort by the BiH authorities to account for 8,000 people who are still missing. Briefing Chairman Zvizdic on key steps that ICMP believes need to be taken in order to sustain this effort, the Commissioners emphasized that the relevant BiH ministries must now assume full managerial oversight of the Missing Persons Institute (MPI) and take immediate steps to resolve the management and funding issues at the MPI. They also urged the authorities to implement the Law on Missing Persons fully by completing the verification of the Central Records on Missing Persons and establishing the Fund for the Families of the Missing.
“We hope that Chairman Zvizdic and the members of the Council of Ministers will place the search for the missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina on a sustainable path and we are encouraged by the constructive and practical tone of our conversation today,” said ICMP Chair Thomas Miller.
Meeting with the members of the BiH Presidency, the Commissioners commended Bosnia and Herzegovina for signing, in Mostar in August 2014, the ICMP Declaration on the Role of the State in Addressing the Missing Persons Issue, which, they said, “shows a serious commitment to continue the search for the 8,000 persons still missing, and upholding rights of families to truth, justice and social and economic benefits.”
The Commissioners called on the BiH authorities to ensure that the MPI is properly resourced, and they reiterated ICMP’s call for the BiH authorities to verify the Central Records of Missing Persons, to complete the review of unidentified remains in BiH mortuaries, and to establish the Fund for the Families of the Missing.