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Enforced Disappearances: more support needed to bring perpetrators to justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina

SARAJEVO (21 June 2010) – The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances* urged the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the international community to further their efforts to bring perpetrators of enforced disappearances to justice and promote reconciliation in the country.

“As far as justice is concerned, many perpetrators are still at large. In many communities they live side by side with their victims,” said the Group’s Chairperson-Rapporteur, Jeremy Sarkin, and member Olivier de Frouville at the end of an 8-day fact-finding mission to learn about the country’s efforts in addressing cases of enforced disappearances/missing persons, and to examine lessons learned in dealing with past cases, the fight against impunity, and other issues concerning truth, justice and reparations for victims.

“Even though there have been a number of trials by both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and by national courts, to prosecute the huge number of perpetrators that remain would require substantial additional financial resources,” the Working Group noted.

During the mid-nineties conflict, Bosnia and Herzegovina suffered severe and massive human rights violations. More than 100,000 people were killed. More than two million people were displaced. Tens of thousands of people disappeared. It is thought that between 28,000 and 30,000 persons disappeared during the conflict; of these, about one third remain missing.

During its mission, the UN Working Group noted major developments and advances made by the authorities to find the truth about the fate and the whereabouts of the missing persons, like the adoption of the Law on Missing Persons, and the creation of the Missing Persons Institute; as well as the significant number of exhumations and identifications carried out, and a number of criminal cases brought at state and entity level.

To build upon these achievements, the UN expert body called for the completion of the Central Record of the Missing Persons, provided by the Law on Missing Persons. “This should be done as soon as possible and be made public with the listing of the ethnic origin of those classified as missing,” the Group said. “This will promote transparency, accuracy and certainty about who went missing. It will reduce the politicisation of these issues.”

On a number of questions relating to missing persons, “all victims from the various ethnic groups allege discrimination in the way they and their communities are dealt with,” the UN independent experts noted. “The right to non-discrimination should be promoted in the country and protected in any activities, and all citizens should be treated equally, wherever they live and whatever their ethnic origin. Legislation and processes to promote equality and prevent discrimination ought to be a priority.”

The Group warned that the process to determine where mass graves can be found is becoming more difficult with the passage of time. “To encourage more people to reveal information concerning grave sites, witness protection programs should be strengthened,” they added.

The UN expert body also recommended the creation of a national program on reparations for relatives of victims of enforced disappearance that includes compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. “Reparation programs should take into account a gender perspective, considering that most of the family relatives of missing persons are women.”

“Much more ought to be done to promote reconciliation in the country. A national law on the issue of memorials should be enacted,” the UN Working Group stressed in its recommendations. “To commemorate the issue of missing persons, without choosing a day that is acceptable to one community only, 30 August -International Day of the Disappeared- should be declared as the national day for commemorating the memory of all missing persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was established by the then UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the fate or whereabouts of the persons reported disappeared. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. The Working Group also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

(*) The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Jeremy Sarkin (South Africa), and the other Members are Santiago Corcuera (Mexico), Jasminka Dzumhur (Bosnia and Herzogovina), Olivier de Frouville (France) and Osman El-Hajjé (Lebanon).

Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Working Group: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/disappear/group/docs/PR21.06.10.pdf

OHCHR Country Page – Bosnia and Herzegovina: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/BAIndex.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Bosnia and Herzegovina: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/BAIndex.aspx