The Hague, 6 November: At the Headquarters of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in The Hague today, the representatives of the authorities that are responsible for accounting for missing persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia signed a Framework Plan that lays out steps to boost their cooperation and increase their effectiveness in accounting for missing persons throughout the region.
In the last two decades, these institutions have been able to account for more than 70 percent of the 40,000 who were missing from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. This is a remarkable achievement, but there are still 12,000 people who have not been accounted for. The Framework Plan will enhance regional cooperation and lays out in detail how this will be done. This includes action to resolve the approximately 4,000 “NN” (no name, or unidentified) in mortuaries across the region, procedures for sharing data among agencies and families, and joint participation at excavations of mutual interest.
Dragan Dukanovic, President of the Commission on Missing Persons of Montenegro, said the Government of Montenegro “is determined to enhance regional cooperation” and that the Government Commission “will be a reliable partner in resolving the process of missing persons.” He also expressed appreciation to ICMP, the European Union and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office for their support for the process.
Jahja Lluka, File Holder for the issue of missing persons of the Government of Kosovo, noted that “the bitter legacy of missing persons is a problem that is common to all our countries,” and he said the Kosovo Commission will “cooperate in a nondiscriminatory manner, regardless of the background of the missing persons,” since all missing persons and all the families of the missing “have equal status.”
Amor Masovic, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, pointed to the successful work that has already been carried out by the institutions as a model that can be implemented elsewhere. However, he added that “the hopes of more than 12,000 families have not yet been fulfilled, a quarter of a century on,” and he said the Framework Plan “will enhance existing cooperation and help us to develop additional capacities.”
Veljko Odalovic, President of the Commission on Missing Persons of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, noted that the signatories “have gathered round this document, and have recognized the need to have a comprehensive regional approach.” He said the work that remains to be done will be difficult but “it is extremely important that we have joined forces under this plan” and he said implementation “should demonstrate that we treat all victims equally, that we take a non-discriminatory approach.” He added that because of the nature of the conflict, with victims throughout the former Yugoslavia “cases and mechanisms cannot be separated by borders.”
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, stressed that “resolving the issue of missing persons was a major indicator in Chapter 23 of Croatia’s EU accession negotiations” and he added that Croatia, “as the most recent member of the EU and as a country that recently experienced armed conflict is transferring its knowledge to other countries and is prepared to continue doing so.” He welcomed the prospect of enhanced sharing of information about missing persons cases among countries in the region.
Commenting on the signing of the Framework Plan, UK Minister for Europe, Sir Alan Duncan, said “It represents a major step forward towards accounting for the missing from the conflicts of the 1990s on the territory of former Yugoslavia and ending the tragic uncertainty still being felt by their families. This is vital work – and it is precisely why the UK Government has pledged over £1m to help put the plan into action. I applaud the ICMP and the governments of the region for making this possible.”
ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger described the Framework Plan as “a realistic strategy to promote regional cooperation, to enhance trust building and to find common solutions with regard to missing persons.” She said that it is efficient and cost effective and that “it will promote justice and uphold the rights of citizens.”
Under the Plan, ICMP will make its Site Locator software available to facilitate data exchange, and it will maintain the regional database of missing persons from the conflict. ICMP will also help to ensure access to DNA testing and matching of biological samples, provide technical assistance in resolving NN cases, support excavations, facilitate regular multilateral meetings of the responsible institutions, and ensure the engagement of families of the missing in the process.
The United Kingdom has pledged funds to ICMP that will be used to support the work of the domestic institutions and to provide technical assistance in implementing the Framework Plan.
The full text of the Framework Plan can be accessed at: http://bit.ly/2PbhVX3
Video of today’s ceremony and speeches can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/2Dt3qrg
Photographs of today’s ceremony can be accessed at ICMP’s Flickr account: http://bit.ly/2QlmASE