The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has handed over the chairmanship of the Expert Group on Exhumations and Missing Persons to the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Under the leadership of MPI, the new Expert Group is expected to enhance the process of searching for the remaining 8,000 to 10,000 missing persons of the 30,000 originally missing.
The handover took place at MPI’s Sarajevo headquarters in a ceremony whose participants included the new members of the Expert Group: representatives from the State and Entity Prosecutors’, SIPA, OSA, BH MAC, State and Entity Ministries, BiH Ministry of Justice, BiH Ministry of Defense, Federal Ministry of Interior as well as court appointed forensic specialists. International organizations such as the ICRC, ICTY and ICMP will remain part of the group.
Ms. Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of ICMP, opened the ceremony which was then addressed by Mr.Milan Bogdanic, Chairman of the Missing Persons Institute Board of Directors. MPI assumed the chairmanship in accordance with its mandate, as stipulated in The Law on Missing Persons of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It is anticipated that this new, locally managed structure will enhance the process of locating, recovering and identifying missing persons by improving vital coordination and communication that is critical for field operations and expediting the process. This coordination is especially critical given that approximately 20,000 of the estimated 30,000 missing persons cases in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been closed and finding the remaining 8,000 to 10,000 cases will be more challenging.
“One key issue in the missing persons process is proper communication and coordination between the various agencies, ministries and institutions that are involved in the search for missing persons. The Expert Group is critical to allowing the MPI to coordinate the process with the other institutions involved,” said Milan Bogdanic.
The Expert Group on Exhumations and Missing Persons was established by the Office of the High Representative in February 1996 in order to support and coordinate the tracing and identification efforts of missing persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina and originally consisted of only international agencies to facilitate cross-entity exhumations. In 2001, ICMP assumed chairmanship of the Expert Group and included local stakeholders in its work.
“It is now appropriate that local institutions are fully in charge of coordinating this process and that MPI takes the lead,” said Kathryne Bomberger.
The MPI became fully operational in 2008 and is the lead agency responsible for the missing persons process in BiH. The success of state-level structures and legislation that transcend nationalistic agendas and approach the issue in a universal sense are the only long-term hope for relatives of the missing to continue to find answers regarding the fate of their loved ones, to exert their rights and to commemorate the missing.
Some 30,000 people were missing following the cessation of conflicts in Bosnia, and since ICMP’s DNA laboratory system went on-line in November 2001, ICMP has assisted in accurately identifying over 12,600 individuals who would not otherwise have been identified. In BiH an additional 6,000 to 8,000 cases have been closed prior to the use of DNA, and thus some 8,000 to 10,000 cases remain open in the country.