Relatives of Missing Persons Die without Learning the Fate of Their Loved Ones

Pervasive ethnic divisions and a lack of common vision of reconciliation and development still hamper the efforts to build a tolerant and cohesive society in Bosnia, more than 20 years after the Bosnian war, said Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, following a four-day visit to Bosnia.

“The country has not yet managed to overcome its violent past and a number of victims, in particular families of missing persons and victims of war crimes of sexual violence, are denied justice. The authorities at all levels are called upon to redouble their efforts to ensure that all wartime victims are provided with adequate protection and support. A human rights approach needs to be systematically pursued, which would include all victims in all processes concerning redress” said Muižnieks.

Nils Muižnieks

Noting with interest the progress made in establishing the fate of persons who went missing during the 1990s’ war, the Commissioner said he was concerned that more than 6,800 persons are still unaccounted for. The urgency of the closure of this painful post-war chapter cannot be overstated given that family members of missing persons, some of whom the Commissioner met during his visit, are passing away without knowing the fate of their loved ones. Aware of the importance of regional cooperation in that context, the Commissioner is noted  that Bosnia signed a cooperation protocol with Serbia on the search for missing persons and that similar agreements are planned to be signed soon with Croatia and Montenegro. He called on Bosnia to establish the long-awaited missing persons fund, and to fully and promptly comply with its international obligations in this context stemming notably from the relevant decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee.

The Commissioner also noted certain progress in the field of criminal justice, such as a slightly increased number of domestic prosecutions of war related crimes of sexual violence. Efforts in this field need to be sustained and adequate protection of and support to witnesses need to be fully ensured before all domestic courts.  Commissioner Muižnieks regrets that the authorities have not yet established an adequate and effective mechanism that would ensure reparation to all victims of war related crimes and their families and invites them to address this issue urgently.

The Commissioner is dismayed that generations of children in Bosnia had been educated in 36 segregated schools with little or no interaction of children from other ethnic groups. By failing to abolish the system of so-called “two schools under one roof” and mono-ethnic schools, and to use education as a tool to promote reconciliation, ethnic polarization has been exacerbated.

“I am encouraged by developments in Jajce, where high school students recently stood up for their rights and demanded integrated education. I hope that this initiative will evolve into a broader movement which will bring about the necessary changes in education upon which the country’s future depends,” said the Commissioner.

Even though more than 20 years have passed since the war, approximately 98 000 persons still remain displaced in Bosnia and Herzegovina, some of them living in deplorable conditions in the remaining 121 collective centers, including the one in Hrasnica, Sarajevo, which the Commissioner visited. While significant efforts have been made in ensuring access to housing for forcibly displaced persons, a number of issues relating to security and access to social and economic rights remain to be addressed in order to make returns sustainable. Having noted with serious concern reports about violence and hate crimes against returnees, the Commissioner stressed the need for effective investigation and prosecution of such crimes and for enhancing human rights awareness of members of the law enforcement and the judiciary.

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