Two Decades of Accounting for the Missing


Twenty years ago today, at the G-7 summit in Lyon, US President Bill Clinton proposed the establishment of the International Commission on Missing Persons, ICMP. Writing in Vecernji list, Oslobodjenje and Glas Srpske on the occasion of ICMP’s 20th anniversary, Director-General Kathryne Bomberger noted that few would have believed in 1996 how much could be achieved.

“The prospects for a sustained and effective effort to account for the tens of thousands of missing people in former Yugoslavia seemed poor. Two decades on, an integrated system – combining the establishment of dedicated institutions and legislation to address the issue of the missing, a rule of law approach, engagement of the families of the missing, and modern scientific methods – has delivered extraordinary results.”

Noting that more than 70 percent of the 40,000 who were missing have been acounted for, Bomberger wrote that “in order to account for the remaining 12,000 missing persons, the authorities must ensure that families of the missing, regardless of their ethnic religious or national origin, or their role during the conflict, have equal rights to the truth, to justice and to reparations – which means enacting and implementing relevant laws; they must create a central, verifiable record of missing persons from the regional conflict – which means that states must complete their own record and then create a regional list: this will provide a truthful accounting and help to secure the rights of survivors; they must expedite investigations and court proceedings related to missing persons cases: these cases are about injustices in the past, but they are also – and this is very important – about justice in the present; and they must address the issue of misidentifications (this applies particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, where mortuaries are holding large numbers of unidentified human remains).“

She said support from the authorities “has to go beyond expressions of sympathy” and she pointed out that in Bosnia and Herzegovina today “there are hundreds of court orders related to missing persons cases that are pending: the authorities must allocate resources and personnel to these cases. This is not simply an administrative backlog – it is an agenda for restoring and upholding justice in this country.”

Columns by Ms Bomberger marking ICMP’s 20th anniversary also appeared this week in media outlets in Serbia, Croatia, Albania and Kosovo.

The full text of Kathryne Bomberger’s column can be accessed at