25 years after Dayton: Bosnian experts and families of the missing take stock of achievements, next steps in finding the missing

Sarajevo, 14 December 2020 –  In an online event organized by ICMP today, Bosnian families of the missing and representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions discussed the country’s achievement in finding over 75 percent of the 30,000 persons missing from the 1990s conflict and its on-going efforts to secure the rights of families and citizens to justice, truth and reparations.

At the event, organized with UK financial support titled “Profiles of the Missing: Missing Persons – 25 Years after Dayton”, participants reflected on the hopes and expectations in the aftermath of the Dayton Peace Accords, which were signed 14 December 1995 in Paris, and on achievements resulting from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s efforts to develop a legal and institutional framework for impartial and effective investigations of missing persons cases.

“This achievement was a massive undertaking spearheaded by the relentless, courageous work of the surviving families of the missing, many of whom are powerful Bosnian women. I will forever be humbled and awed by their ability to fight for justice with every ounce of their strength,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said. “In addition to families of the missing, this unprecedented work was carried out by hundreds of individuals, including Bosnian prosecutors, judges, forensic experts, law enforcement, crime technicians and representatives of the Missing Persons Institute, as well as persons from state, municipal and cantonal governments.”

She added that the success was underpinned by four factors: the state assuming responsibility, cooperation among governments and families domestically and regionally, a commitment to the rule of law and the use of largescale DNA matching of genetic samples collected from 100,000 families to the mortal remains of wartime victims excavated from thousands of mass and clandestine graves across the region.

Progress recognized by speakers at the event included the near-complete verification of the BIH Central Records, which includes information about all persons missing reported, along with the MPI’s publishing of the database on its website, thereby enabling families to access accurate information. Participants called on BIH authorities to continue efforts to account for those who are still missing and to secure the rights of all the families of the missing, including by fully implementing the country’s Law on Missing Persons.

“The joint work of the Association of Families of the Missing, Bosnia and Herzegovina institutions at all levels the Institute for Missing Persons of BIH, the Prosecutor’s Office of BIH, ICMP and other international organizations, despite challenges, has achieved significant results in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region. Interstate cooperation between the families of the missing and the institutions for searching for the missing has resulted in the resolution of many missing persons cases. We believe that this practice must continue,” said Marko Grabovac, a Member of the MPI Advisory Board.

Amor Masovic, Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, reflected on obstacles that have been overcome: “Adopting the Law on Missing Persons enabled us to work on missing persons cases in a non-discriminatory manner regardless of the missing person’s ethnic, religious or any other affiliation,” he said.

Saliha Djuderija, Assistant Minister for Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noted that families of the missing play a key part in the process together with local institutions. “We are very aware that local authorities need to take even greater responsibility for the process of accounting for the missing to secure the rights of all families of the missing.”

Gordana Tadic, Chief Prosecutor at Prosecutor’s Office of BIH commended the cooperation of all relevant institutions and underlined the shared commitment to resolve of all war crimes and missing persons cases. She noted that her office and ICMP had jointly reviewed unidentified cases in 12 BIH mortuary facilities. “We all need to implement the recommendations stemming from this review in order to get (…) new identifications”. She added that the Prosecutor’s office remained committed to investigating missing persons cases to assist war crimes proceedings and to provide answers to families of the missing.

ICMP’s assistance to BIH includes technical support in the documentation of mass and clandestine graves, in extracting and analysing DNA and in matching data so that Bosnian authorities can identify missing persons and evidence linked to crime scenes can be submitted to courts.

About ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.

Contact ICMP