News 29 Aug 14

Ex-Yugoslav Presidents Sign Missing Persons Declaration

The presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia signed a landmark declaration aimed at speeding up the search for people still missing from the 1990s conflicts.

Sanela Gakovic
BIRN
Mostar

Presidents Nikolic, Vujanovic, Josipovic and Izetbegovic in Mostar. Photo by Beta

The four presidents - Ivo Josipovic from Croatia, Filip Vujanovic from Montenegro, Tomislav Nikolic from Serbia and the presiding member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic - signed the declaration on Friday in Mostar, saying that they hoped it would aid the search for around 13,000 people whose bodies have not been found.

“We know we might never find all the victims, but we will not give up while there is hope,” said Izetbegovic.

He said it was a “horrific crime” for people to conceal where war victims were buried.

“This is why I am calling on all those who have information about graves to cooperate with us. It is the humane thing to do,” he said.

The declaration is intended to boost cooperation between states and make the process of finding and identifying the bodies of the wartime dead less traumatic for their families, giving them rights to demand an investigation into the disappearance of their loved ones.

Ljiljana Alvir, the head of the regional coordination board of missing persons associations in the Balkans said that it was a great victory for families whose relatives had not yet been found.

“In the name of all those looking for their loved ones, I express hope that the declaration will bind states to protect elementary human rights - one of which is the right to the dignified burial of victims. This will enable peace and progress for states and peoples living in this region,” Alvir said.

Serbian President Nikolic said that Belgrade was committed to investigating any potential mass grave site.

“We want to investigate, we have nothing to hide, neither do we want to hide anything. If there is any suspected location, we will investigate it in cooperation with everyone, both with the state which is interested in it and international organizations,” Nikolic said.

“There were people from every nation who committed crimes, Serbian people as well. Let’s finally solve that, and bury [the victims],” he added.

UN representative Flavia Pansieri, who attended the signing in Mostar, called it a “historic day”.

She said that she believed that the declaration “will undoubtedly change the way we look at the problem of missing persons because it supports mechanisms which enable finding the truth about missing persons and bringing perpetrators to justice”.

The signing of the declaration was organised by the International Commission on Missing Persons, which estimates that more than 40,000 people went missing as a result of the 1990s wars, with about a third still unaccounted for.

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