The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia led to the disappearance of over 35000 people. While approximately 25000 cases have been resolved, the families of over 10,000 missing persons are still searching for their loved ones, more than two decades after the conflicts. The search for the remaining missing is a humanitarian imperative, and an obligation to the families.
Two years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) agreed to cooperate, in conformity with their respective mandates, in order to intensify the search for missing persons from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the context of the ICRC’s five-year regional strategy on missing persons.
The OTP’s evidence collection, which holds more than 9.3 million pages of evidence and tens of thousands of artifacts, is an invaluable repository of data and leads on the fates of the missing. The OTP is responding to requests for assistance (RFA) from the ICRC and conducting extensive searches of its evidence collection to enable the ICRC to share relevant information with national missing persons authorities, IRMCT states in the press release.
Since the project started in October 2018 to date, the ICRC has submitted a total of 306 RFAs. The OTP has handed over 6,645 documents, comprising 101,128 pages, and 51 audio visual records relating to 1,547 missing persons. Utilizing the information obtained from the OTP and other sources, the ICRC has provided information to national authorities that has already led to the discovery of a number of grave locations containing remains of the missing from the conflicts.
One of biggest obstacles in the tracing process is a lack of new information about locations of graves. As a neutral and independent organization, the ICRC has a privileged access to the international archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague and searches them for information about the fate and whereabouts of missing persons.
In the past two years, the ICRC experts have collected and processed over 50,000 pages of documentation related to the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, of which 12,400 have so far been handed over to the authorities for potential action. Collected information has helped to locate the remains of 137 people in 2017, indicating that further investing in these efforts does yield results.