Sarajevo, 4 July 2019: A dedicated meeting on accounting for persons missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia was held today in the framework of the 6th Berlin Process Summit in Poznan, Poland.
Last July, at the 5th Berlin Process Summit in London, the leaders of the 14 participating countries (Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom) signed a Joint Declaration asserting the need to intensify multilateral cooperation to locate and/or identify the 12,000 persons who are still missing from the conflicts as an important measure to ensure peace and stability in the region.
In the last two decades, by ensuring the cooperation of the relevant post-conflict governments, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) spearheaded a regional effort that has made it possible to account for 28,000 of the 40,000 people who were missing at the end of the conflict, an achievement that has not been equaled anywhere in the world.
The Declaration signed in London was followed by the signing of a Framework Plan last November, at the Headquarters of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in The Hague, by representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, who formally undertook to work together as the regional Missing Persons Group (MPG).
The United Kingdom has provided 1.5 million Euro for a two-year ICMP project to facilitate the work of the regional governments and to provide technical assistance to the MPG.
At the Poznan Summit, the MPG reported on progress it has made in implementing the Framework Plan from November 2018 to July 2019.
ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger outlined the steps taken by the domestic institutions, noting that they have started working intensively on exchanging data through the Regional Database of active missing persons cases.
“Intensified multilateral cooperation under the aegis of the Berlin Process, and the signing of the Framework Plan will ensure that regional governments continue to take responsibility for locating and identifying the remaining missing persons cases in a credible and transparent manner” Bomberger said. She added that “with the support of the United Kingdom ICMP will continue to work with government institutions to enhance regional cooperation and with family associations in securing the rights of families of the missing as an obligation of states”.
Commenting on the presentation of the MPG report, UK Minister for Europe Sir Alan Duncan said that “to lose a loved one is heartbreak. To lose a loved one and not know their fate for 25 years must be agony. It is an agony we all want to help relieve for as many survivors and their families as possible while there is still time to do so. The UK will continue to stand by you. It is our honour to continue to support the ICMP, the Missing Persons Group and Representatives of the Families in your work.”
Nikola Perisić, a member of the Board of Directors of the BiH Missing Persons Institute, reported on the steps that have been taken to resolve NN cases. “We have agreed to jointly review unidentified cases originating from a number of locations and we have nominated specific cases of joint interest for further analysis and additional forensic work,” he said.
Stjepan Sucic, Assistant Minister, Directorate for Detained and Missing Persons, Ministry of Croatian Veterans and Chairman of the Commission on Detained and Missing Persons of the Government of Croatia, emphasized the importance of developing a unique, interactive database of active missing persons cases. “So far, MPG members have made hundreds of entries in the Database, providing information on the status of cases and harmonizing records,” he said. “This ensures enhanced transparency in data management of all cases among the MPG members, and when ready, the MPG will enable families of the missing and citizens to access the database to view and review existing records.”
Jahja Lluka, File Holder for the issue of missing persons of the Government of Kosovo commended the willingness shown by all partners to conduct field investigations and, if necessary, exhumations of human remains. He pointed out that “at meetings under the auspices of the Framework Plan, bilaterally, and through other established mechanisms, MPG members have nominated 16 specific locations to be reconnaissanced and excavated in the upcoming period.”
Dragan Djukanovic, President of the Commission on Missing Persons of Montenegro highlighted the central role of families of the missing. “Representatives of the Regional Coordination of Associations of Families of the Missing from the Former Yugoslavia have met representatives of all the domestic institutions and are kept informed about progress in the implementation of the Framework Plan, which is crucial to ensuring their confidence in the credibility of our efforts” he said.
Presenting the conclusions of the Report, Ljilja Krstic, Senior Councilor to the Commission on Missing Persons of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, stressed the importance of confidence-building. “This work builds confidence and trust among the domestic institutions in the credibility of each other’s efforts to locate and identify missing persons, thereby helping to depoliticize the issue,” she said.
Semina Alekic, Chairperson of the Steering Board of the Regional Coordination of Associations of Families of Missing Persons from the Former Yugoslavia said that “the Regional Coordination has lobbied at domestic institutions and international authorities to influence decision makers in the countries of the former Yugoslavia to take more responsibility with regard to accounting for the missing without discrimination, trying the suspects and adequately punishing perpetrators so that families can exercise their right to know, mourn properly and get justice in all aspects”.
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with headquarters in The Hague. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.
* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSC 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.