10 Years after Dayton: Governments Must Do More for Families of the Missing

11 November 2005: Ten years after the Dayton Peace Agreement ended hostilities in the former Yugoslavia, representatives of families of persons who went missing during the conflict, from all ethnic groups, sat down with government authorities today and urged them to do more to release information on the fate of their loved ones.The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is hosting this three-day conference in Novi Sad, in northern Serbia and Montenegro, to facilitate dialogue between regional government officials, representatives of the international community and missing persons family associations.

On the first day of the conference, Rasim Ljajic, the Minister for Human and Minority Rights of Serbia and Montenegro, announced that his Government would draft a law designed to address the issue of missing persons. This law, he said, would be based on the model of the Law on Missing Persons that was adopted in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2004. The Law gives missing persons’ families the right to know the fate of their missing and rights to social and financial support.

Other participants on the first day included Mirsad Kebo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Minister for Human Rights and Refugees, Ivan Grujic on behalf of Jadranka Kosor, Croatian Minister for Families, Veterans and Intergenerational Solidarity, and Marianne Gasser, Head of the International Committee of Red Cross Delegation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. ICMP Chief of Staff Kathryne Bomberger hosted the meeting, which was chaired by representatives of family associations.

“The issue of persons missing from the conflicts in the regions of South Eastern Europe remains one of the biggest human rights issues facing the area today,” said Kathryne Bomberger after the meetings, “And both the Government officials and family associations agreed that although there has been progress, there is much more work that still needs to be done”,

All sides noted the positive development in Bosnia-Herzegovina of the establishment this August of the Missing Persons Institute as a State-level institution. However, they noted, that although the Law on Missing in Bosnia-Herzegovina had been adopted a year ago, it had still not yet been fully implemented. Family association members called for such legislation to be adopted, and implemented, across the region. They also stressed the need for compensation to the families of missing persons.

Reminding Governments of their duty to address the missing persons issue, Semina Alekic of the Union of Bosniak Associations of Missing Persons’ Families said that “Even the worst truth is better than the agony of uncertainty”.

There also appears to be growing momentum towards the holding of a regional ministerial-level conference on missing persons as state-level processes make progress on trilateral issues facing Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro.