TRIAL concerned for families of forcefully disappeared
Sarajevo/Geneva, 8 September 2010
In November 2006 the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) adopted its concluding observations concerning the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the status of human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Among other subjects, the Committee expressed its concern for the fact that the fate and whereabouts of thousands of persons who went missing during the armed conflict remains unresolved.
On that occasion, the HRC reminded BiH that the family members of missing persons have the right to be informed about the fate of their relatives. The failure to investigate the causes and circumstances of disappearance, as well as to provide information about the burial sites of missing persons may amount to inhuman treatment because of the suffering inflicted to family members. Accordingly, the HRC recommended BiH to take immediate and effective steps to investigate all unresolved cases of missing persons and to provide relatives with adequate and fair compensation and integral reparation. In this sense the Committee called on the government to ensure without delay the full functioning of the Institute for Missing Persons (MPI); the finalization of the central database of missing persons (CEN); and the setting up of the Fund for Support to Families of Missing Persons (the Fund).
From 2006 the HRC has been monitoring the implementation by BiH of its recommendations. In September 2010, TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), the Association of Families of Killed and Missing Defenders of the Homeland War from Bugojno Municipality, the Association of Relatives of Missing Persons from Hadžići Municipality, the Association of Relatives of Missing Persons from Ilijaš Municipality, theAssociation Women from Prijedor – Izvor; the Association of Relatives of Missing Persons of the Sarajevo-Romanija Region, and the Association of Relatives of Missing Persons of the Vogošća Municipality submitted to the HRC information on the subject of missing people, in order to highlight the progresses made, as well as the remaining obstacles for the full implementation of the recommendations of the HRC.
According to Mrs. Lejla Mamut, the Human Rights Coordinator of TRIAL in Sarajevo, “this joint submission by an international NGO, along with associations representing relatives of missing people regardless of their ethnic origin, is part of a strategy to maintain the crucial subject of missing people and their relatives on the national and international agendas. In the past months, prompted by TRIAL, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance visited the country and formulated some preliminary recommendations and its full report is expected by March 2011. Relatives of missing persons are enduring a particularly difficult situation and we hope that BiH will eventually implement all the recommendations formulated by these international human rights mechanisms. This is essential to put an end to the suffering of thousands of people and to prevent future abuses”.
In the submission to the HRC, reference is made to the existing problems to the effective functioning of the MPI (e.g. failure by the Council of Ministries to elect three new members of the Steering Committee and to consider and vote on the audit report for 2009; deficiencies in the carrying out of exhumations, in the cooperation with the Prosecutor’s Offices and difficulties in the relations with the Republika Srpska Operative Team for Missing Persons; inadequate resources and problems with the personnel and the engagement of the members of the Board of Directors); to the non-completion of the CEN; and to the non-establishment of the Fund due to the lack of agreement between the entity governments on the criteria to be used for financing the Fund. The Associations submit to the HRC concrete examples of the obstacles encountered daily in the realization of their rights and formulate recommendations to overcome them.
It is noteworthy that in the next months BiH is expected to submit further information to the HRC on the situation in the country, as well as reports to the Committee against Torture, to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
“TRIAL will closely follow these activities and submit relevant information to the United Nations Committees to provide them with a complete picture of the situation of relatives of missing persons in the country. After more than 18 years, they still suffer the tremendous anguish of not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones and they have not obtained justice and integral reparation for the harm suffered”, said Mr. Philip Grant, the President of TRIAL. He added that in the next future TRIAL will devote its attention also to the subject of victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence during the war. Mr. Grant indicated that: “This is another extremely vulnerable category, whose rights have been neglected for too long, with painful consequences on the survivors, and, ultimately, on the whole BiH society. It’s time for the State to adequately address this situation and we will turn to international human rights mechanisms to call on BiH to fully respect and implement its international obligations”.
It is estimated that between 100,000 and 200,000 persons died as a consequence of the conflict in BiH during the period 1992-1995 and that between 25,000 and 30,000 were victims of enforced disappearance. As of today, between 10,000 and 13,000 people are still missing.
In 2009 TRIAL submitted a general allegation on behalf of families of missing persons to the Working Group for Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. Prompted by this allegation, the Working Group took the historical decision to hold its 94th session in BiH and also carried out a visit to the country in June 2010. TRIAL has also filed 35 individual complaints before the European Court of Human Rights or the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of relatives of missing persons. TRIAL will continue to resort to international mechanisms for the protection of human rights in order to turn the attention to the situation of families of missing persons in BiH and to put pressure on the government to work harder for the improvement of the current position of this group of victims.