The families of missing persons agree with Amnesty International’s assessment that the lack of progress in finding their loved ones is a result of the fact that war crimes perpetrators still wield political influence.
The goal of finding 14,000 people still missing from the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia has still to be fulfilled, due to political unwillingness to both address the basic human rights of the victims and also bring the perpetrators to justice, says an Amnesty International report.
The report was released to coincide with the International Day of Missing Persons on August 30.
Samira Krehic, from the International Committee of Missing Persons, ICMP, says that the figure of 14,000 missing people is an estimate, and that the exact number cannot be determined as long as the states compile their own lists, and do not create a joint list of all the people, of all nationalities, who went missing during the 1990s wars.
According to ICMP estimates, 40,000 people were missing, presumed dead, at the end of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. An estimated 30,000 disappeared during the Bosnian war. Six thousands went missing during the war in Croatia, 4,400 during the Kosovo conflict, and 23 persons disappeared during the 2001 crisis in Macedonia.
Today, around 10,000 victims of the Bosnian war are still missing, 2,000 victims of the Croatian war, 1,700 from the Kosovo conflict and 13 in Macedonia.
Members of the regional coordinating body for the Associations of the Families of Missing Persons, founded in Sarajevo last year, agree that twenty years after the war began little progress has been made in finding their family members due to the lack of political will.
Bosnia and Hercegovina
Seida Karabasic, a representative from Bosnia’s associations, whose father’s body was found in 1999 after he went missing from the town of Prijedor during the Bosnian war, says that there are numerous laws and declarations regarding missing persons but that they all remain on paper.
Amnesty notes in its report that the failure to implement the 2004 Missing Persons of Bosnia and Herzegovina Act creates many problems for the families of disappeared, “as they are unable to obtain information about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.”
Out of a Bosnian population of 3.4 million at the end of the conflict in 1995, 30,000 people were reported as missing. The fate of 10,500, according to the AI data, remains unknown.
AI says that the problem that all former Yugoslav countries are facing is an inability to prosecute war criminals. In many communities, the alleged war criminals continue to live near the victims and their families.
A number of alleged criminals hold roles in the government, the ruling political parties, the military and the police, which creates a considerable obstacle when it comes to the prosecution of war crimes.
Ljiljana Alvic, a representative of the missing persons’ associations from Croatia, shares that view. Her brother disappeared in 1992 in the Croatian town of Vukovar and has been missing ever since.
“In state institutions all over the former Yugoslavia, you have people who have been either directly or indirectly involved in war crimes,” Alvir says.
Out of 6,406 people who were reported to the International Red Cross, ICRC, as missing in Croatia, more than third have still to be found.
Amnesty says that Croatian society is still reluctant to admit that crimes were committed by the Croatian forces against the Croatian Serbs.
“Despite recent progress made by the Croatian and Serbian judiciaries in addressing the impunity of the perpetrators, there are still many barriers to effective investigations … including the enforced disappearance and abduction of witnesses,” reads the report.
“Both the Croatian and Serbian authorities must urgently improve witness protection measures …and must increase the number and quality of prosecutions,” notes AI.
Serbia and Kosovo
According to the ICRC, some 3,600 people are still missing from the 1998-1999 war between the Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.
Families in both Kosovo and Serbia are still waiting for the remains of their relatives to be exhumed, identified and returned to them for burial.
Olgica Bozanic, a representative from Serbia on the regional coordinating body, who is herself a refugee from Kosovo, says that the she has been unable to locate the remains of her two brothers, who were abducted by the KLA, along with other relatives, in the town of Orahovac in 1998.
The remains of her other relatives were discovered in mass graves in Kosovo in 2005. As for her two brothers, she suspects that their organs may have been harvested somewhere in Albania.
Regarding this issue, Amnesty International, AI, has welcomed the formation of a special EU Rule of Law Mission to Kosovo, EULEX, task force, the aim of which is to investigate the organ trafficking allegations made by the former Council of Europe human right rapporteur Dick Marty.
AI has also urged the Belgrade authorities to investigate those police officers who served under the command of police general Vlastimir Djordjevic, who has been convicted by the Hague Tribunal for crimes against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Macedonia and Montenegro
The Amnesty’s report also addresses the issues of missing persons and transitional justice in Macedonia and Montenegro, two countries which were only marginally affected by the war in former Yugoslavia.
Eleven years after the armed conflict between the Macedonian army and the Albanian National Liberation Army, the authorities are still failing to initiate independent, impartial and thorough investigations into the allegations of enforced disappearances and abductions that took place during the conflict.
No adequate measures have so far been taken to investigate the abduction of six ethnic Albanians, 12 ethnic Macedonians and one Bulgarian national.
Amnesty International has urged the governments of Macedonia and Croatia to both ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and implement it in national law.
AI also wants official recognition for the work of the Enforced Disappearances Committee, a body which liaises with individuals claiming to be victims.
When it comes to Montenegro, AI notes that despite the assertions of the authorities that Montenegro did not participate in the international conflict, the Appellate court of Montenegro has ruled that the character of the conflict in former Yugoslavia was international and that nine former policemen and government officials can be prosecuted for war crimes committed in Montenegro in 1992.
The missing persons should be priority for the regional cooperation:
RECOM, a regional network of NGOs that wants to establish a regional commission to promote reconciliation and ascertain the facts about all victims of war crimes following the 1991-2001 conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, said that finding the missing people should be priority in the regional cooperation between the countries of the Western Balkans.
Amnesty International called on the governments in the region to demonstrate a clear commitment to ending impunity for those who may have carried out enforced disappearances and abductions.
They also want the regional governments to carry out prompt and impartial investigations into war crimes, and to guarantee the rights of victims and their families to protection and support.
The NGO also urged the European Commission to apply pressure on regional governments through the accession process, to ensure that progress is made in terms of ending the impunity of those who may have carried out enforced disappearances and abductions.
AI also wants the EC to press for guarantees that the families of missing persons will receive both justice and also adequate and effective compensation for the loss of their relatives.