International Day of the Disappeared: Commemorating the Missing from the Yugoslav Conflicts of the 1990s

Sarajevo, 28 August 2017: This Wednesday in every part of the world, on the occasion of International Day of the Disappeared, families of the missing will call for action to account for the tens of thousands of people who disappear every year as a consequence of conflict, natural disasters, crime, irregular migration and other causes. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) will join with family groups, government officials and other international organizations to highlight the issue of missing persons and to call for effective strategies to be applied to address this issue.

Accounting for more than 70 percent of those who went missing in the Western Balkans, an unparalleled achievement, nonetheless means that thousands of families are still searching for a loved one. “On International Day of the Disappeared it is essential to remember that there are 12,000 families in the Western Balkans who have not yet learned the fate of a loved one,” Bomberger said. “It simply isn’t possible to pretend that society has returned to normal when so many citizens are still living with this pain and this injustice.”

In the Western Balkans, family associations will organize events to mark International Day of the Disappeared, in Tuzla, Prijedor, Ilijas, Ozren, Bijelina, Mostar, Brcko, and Sarajevo. There will also be activities in Zagreb, Belgrade and Pristina.

“When persons disappear, government authorities have a statutory obligation under international and domestic law to do everything possible to account for the missing and to uphold the right of survivors to truth, justice and reparations,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today. “In the Western Balkans, governments have begun to fulfil this responsibility to their citizens and that is why it has been possible to make so much progress.”

Bomberger noted that the region has led the world in finding and identifying the missing through a law-based and completely non-discriminatory process and that “families of the missing throughout the world can benefit from the hard but valuable lessons that have been learned here”.

More than 28,000 of the 40,000 people who were missing at the end of the conflict in former Yugoslavia have been accounted for. This has been achieved through a rule-of-law strategy that brings together institutional and legislative initiatives, state-of-the-art forensic science, and civil society involvement. ICMP is now applying this strategy in other parts of the world including Iraq, Syria and Colombia.

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Background

In recent years, governments in the region have indicated that they understand the challenge and are prepared to meet it:

  • 2014: The Presidents of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro signed ICMP’s Declaration on the Role of the State in Addressing the Issue of Persons Missing as a Consequence of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Abuses, making a commitment to maintain the effort to find those who are still missing and to support survivors.
  • 2016: Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo agreed to provide information to a Regional Database maintained by ICMP, which will facilitate the effort to account for those who are still missing by making all information fully available and by identifying and eliminating duplicate information
  • 2017: The parliament in Serbia ratified Serbia’s accession to the Agreement on the Status and Functions of ICMP, which established ICMP as an international organization with a global mandate. Bosnia and Herzegovina is expected to accede to the Agreement when the House of Peoples approves ratification in September.

About the ICMP

ICMP was based in Sarajevo until 2015, when it moved its Headquarters to The Hague, Netherlands. Today, it maintains an active Western Balkans program, with offices in Sarajevo and Tuzla. 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.

About the International Day of the Disappeared

In 1981, the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of the Disappeared-Detainees (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos – FEDEFAM) initiated the commemoration of what is now officially recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of the Disappeared, 30 August.