Family members desperate to know the truth hold photographs of their ‘disappeared’ loved ones
By resolution 20 (XXXVI) of 29 February 1980, the Commission on Human Rights decided to "establish for a period of one year a working group consisting of five of its members, to serve as experts in their individual capacities, to examine questions relevant to enforced or involuntary disappearances of persons". Since then, the mandate and terms of reference of the Working Group were renewed by the Commission and approved by the Economic and Social Council each year.
Since 1986 this has been done biennially and, since 1992, on a three-yearly basis. The last resolution renewing the mandate of the Working Group, A/HRC/16/16, was adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The Working Group's basic mandate is to assist the relatives of disappeared persons to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared family members. For this purpose the Group receives and examines reports of disappearances submitted by relatives of disappeared persons or human rights organizations acting on their behalf. After determining whether those reports comply with a number of criteria, the Working Group transmits individual cases to the Governments concerned, requesting them to carry out investigations and to inform the Working Group of the results.
The Working Group deals with the numerous individual cases of human rights violations on a purely humanitarian basis, irrespective of whether the Government concerned has ratified any of the existing legal instruments which provide for an individual complaints procedure. It acts essentially as a channel of communication between the families of disappeared persons and Governments, and has successfully developed a dialogue with the majority of Governments concerned with the aim of solving cases of disappearance.
With the adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, starting as at 1992 and in addition to its core mandate, the Working Group was also entrusted with monitoring the progress of States in fulfilling their obligations deriving from the Declaration and to provide to Governments assistance in its implementation. The Working Group draws the attention of Governments and non-governmental organizations to different aspects of the Declaration and recommends ways of overcoming obstacles to the realization of its provisions. In this capacity, the Working Group has a preventive role, by assisting States in overcoming obstacles to the realization of the Declaration. This is done both while carrying out country visits and by providing advisory services, when requested.
Issues in Focus - Bosnia and Herzegovina
At the invitation of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances visited the country from 14 to 21 June 2010.
The purpose of the visit was to learn about the efforts made by Bosnia and Herzegovina to address cases of enforced disappearances and to examine lessons learned and good practices in dealing with cases of enforced disappearances, the fight against impunity, and other issues, including truth, justice and reparations for victims.
The delegation of the Working Group held meetings with high-level representatives of the Government, the Parliament and the Judiciary, and many non-governmental organizations, associations of families and relatives of disappeared persons, and other civil society actors all over Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as representatives of the international community. The delegation of the WGEID also visited various facilities for the identification of remains, exhumation sites, former detention camps and the Potočari memorial centre in Srebrenica. It also attended a commemoration event held by families of victims.
Fifteen years after the end of the war, the Working Group acknowledged the immense progress made by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the search and identification of the disappeared, reparations for victims and the prosecution of this heinous crime. However, much remains to be done to achieve the right to the truth, the right to justice and the right to reparation for the disappeared and their families.
The main recommendations of the Working Group include setting up the Central Records of Missing Persons and the Fund for Support to the Families of Missing Persons, as provided for in the Law on Missing Persons. An autonomous crime should be added into the criminal law. More support should be given to the work of the Missing Persons Institute and for prosecutors working on exhumations and war crimes prosecutions. A national programme on reparations for relatives of victims of enforced disappearance should be established and protection and assistance programmes for victims and witnesses should be strengthened.
The visit report is available in English (summaries in F, S, R, A and C are also available) and Bosnian (*).
* The goal of this website is to disseminate information about the WGEID and its activities broadly. OHCHR bears no responsibility of the quality and the accuracy of the translation of the present report other than those of the six official UN languages.