Missing persons: progress made but more for BiH authorities to do

Peter Sørensen at the ICMP

Peter Sørensen at the ICMP

On the International Day of the Disappeared, the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina/EU Special Representative and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) highlighted progress made and areas for improvement in efforts to account for the approximately 30,000 persons missing from the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Following a painstaking process of locating mass graves and recovering and identifying mortal remains using modern scientific methods, over 70 %, or 22,000 of the missing persons from the BiH conflict have been accounted for.

“Globally, this is an unprecedented achievement. Nowhere in the world after conflict have so many missing persons been located and identified. This is a joint success of the families of missing, the local authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the international community,” said Ambassador Peter Sorenson, Head of the EU Delegation/EU Special Representative in BiH.

According to Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of the ICMP, approximately 9,000 persons remain unaccounted for in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ms. Bomberger noted that, “it is critical to the future peace and stability of the region that BiH and the other governments in the region remain vigilant in their efforts to account for the missing regardless of their ethnic, religious or national origin in a transparent and accountable manner.”

The EU and the ICMP today highlight several key issues that must be addressed to enable progress in addressing missing persons cases in BiH and to ensure that the rights of survivors’ groups are met. These include:

• Full implementation of the Law on Missing Persons, and the Fund for Families of the Missing, which was foreseen in the law, should be created. While the Law on Missing Persons was created in 2004, lack of implementation has had a negative effect on the rights of thousands of relatives of the missing. The non-implementation of certain aspects of the Law was also recognized by the BiH Constitutional Court in at least 15 decisions dealing with missing persons.

• Although foreseen in the same law, the Central Records of missing persons from the conflict have not been created. While progress has been made in the last year, the Missing Persons Institute and other authorities should expedite the creation of these records, enabling the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to speak with one voice regarding the number and names of those who went missing.

• The process of prosecuting those who were responsible for committing war crimes and other atrocities needs to be expedited. BiH authorities, with the assistance of ICMP have excavated almost 3,000 mass and clandestine gravesites around the country. In addition, over 14,000 persons have been recovered and accurately identified using DNA. The information obtained from this process provides hard evidence for court purposes and allows the families of the missing the right to justice.

• The process of conducting an inventory of the 11 mortuaries in BiH began this year. This review is essential to ensuring that all conflict-related mortal remains that have been recovered can be identified. ICMP has DNA-based information that the skeletal remains of over 2,500 individuals are currently housed as unidentified in these 11 mortuaries. Furthermore, almost 27,000 relatives of the missing have provided blood reference samples to ICMP, which account for 9,000 missing individuals, which ICMP cannot match to the mortal remains stored in the 11 mortuaries. The reasons for this need to be clarified by BiH authorities through an inventory process of all mortuaries in an expeditious, transparent and professional manner.