HRH the Prince of Wales Meets Representatives of Families of the Missing from Southeast Europe

The Hague, 8 March 2017: HRH the Prince of Wales invited representatives of families of the missing from Southeast Europe to meet with him at his home today. The meeting, facilitated by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), allowed family representatives to brief HRH on the progress that has been made in accounting for those who went missing as a result of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, and to present the steps that must be taken in order to ensure that efforts to account for those who are still missing continue. Today’s meeting, at Clarence House in London, followed a presentation in Pristina by families of the missing during a tour of the countries of the former Yugoslavia by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in March 2016.

HRH noted that he had been impressed by the way in which families have taken the initiative. He made it clear that dealing with the issue of the missing is a fundamental and indispensable element in the successful and sustained recovery from conflict. He welcomed the opportunity today to learn more about the recommendations that the families will now make to governments in the region in order to carry the process forward.

ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger, who moderated today’s meeting, noted that governments around the world have increasingly come to understand that the issue of missing persons, from conflict, migration and other causes, represents a global challenge, and she stressed that strategies now exist to tackle the issue effectively. “More than 70 percent of the 40,000 people missing at the end of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia have been accounted for,” she said, “not least because ICMP has developed an approach to the issue which combines support for legislative and institutional structures, the empowerment of families of the missing, and the application of cutting-edge forensic science.”

Family members participating in the meeting said regional governments need to do much more to search for and identity the remaining 12,000 missing persons, noting that the process of accounting for the missing in recent years has slowed. Enhanced regional cooperation, exchange of information pertinent to locating gravesites, including the opening of archives in the region, and renewed political will are required to move the process forward, they said.

The principal issues discussed at today’s event focused on efforts to strengthen regional cooperation to account for the remaining 12,000 persons missing as a result of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. This cooperation should include the full participation of all affected states in the ICMP Database of active missing persons cases from the conflicts in the region, as well as a thorough exchange of information critical to locating and recovering human remains from clandestine gravesites. In addition, the need to acknowledge the ways in which this issue affects women in particular, and the challenges that women face in accessing their rights and the rights of their children.

The meeting also highlighted the role of states in taking coordinated action to resolve cases of unidentified human remains in a systematic way and address the issue of mis-identifications that occurred prior to the use of DNA testing. Family members called on states that have adopted Laws on Missing Persons to ensure full implementation of these laws, and urged states that have no legal framework enshrining the rights of families of the missing and the obligations of the state to draft, adopt and implement legislation on missing persons.

The meeting discussed the role of states in the region in fulfilling rights to social and economic benefits of the families of persons who went missing as civilians through legislation on civilian war victims. Such legislation should improve the situation regarding compensation that families of missing civilians receive vis-à-vis those received by families of missing combatants, and families called on the signatories (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro) to the ICMP Declaration on the role of the state in addressing the issue of persons missing as a result of conflict and human rights abuses to remain vigilant in upholding the principles of the Declaration, and expressed the hope that other states will sign the Declaration.

ICMP is an international organization based in The Hague, the Netherlands. 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. ICMP has spearheaded an effort of more than 20 years to account for the missng from the conflict in former Yugoslavia.