|The beautiful Mostar Bridge has been rebuilt, but elsewhere the scars from the Balkan wars are still visible and raw/Veronique Mistiaen|
I’ve recently travelled through Bosnia and Croatia, and was shocked to see that two decades after the Balkan wars, the scars are still so visible and raw: many buildings are still in ruins or poked with bullet holes. People are suspicious and deeply divided, and many children are growing up without ever meeting a child from another ethnic group. Across the Balkans, thousands of people are still missing.
Today, some 14,000 people remain unaccounted for in the countries that make up the former Yugoslavia – nearly half of the total number who disappeared in the decade since war broke out in 1991.
Between 1991 and 2001, a total of 34,700 people were reported missing due to enforced disappearances or abductions in the region. The majority of their relatives are still waiting for justice.
In a briefing published yesterday on the International Day of the Disappeared, The right to know: Families still left in the dark in the Balkans, Amnesty International calls on the authorities in the Balkans to investigate enforced disappearances – crimes under international law – and to ensure the victims and their families receive access to justice and reparations.
|Not far from the Mostar Bridge, many buildings are still in ruins/Veronique Mistiaen|
Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director, Jezerca Tigani, said:
“People living in the Balkans have not closed the chapter on enforced disappearances. They are a daily source of pain for the relatives still waiting to learn the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, still searching for truth, justice and reparation.
“The victims of enforced disappearances come from all ethnic groups and from all walks of life. Civilians and soldiers, men, women and children – their families have the right to know the truth about the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and the result of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person. For families of the disappeared, having the body returned for burial is the first step towards achieving justice.
“The lack of investigations and prosecutions of enforced disappearances and abductions remains a serious concern throughout the Balkans.
“The major obstacle to tackling impunity and bringing the perpetrators to justice is a persistent lack of political will in all countries of the region.”
The briefing highlights cases of enforced disappearances and abductions in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia and Kosovo. All six governments have failed to abide by their international legal obligations to effectively investigate and prosecute these crimes.
Some perpetrators have been brought to justice by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but the Tribunal is nearing the end of its mandate.
Domestic courts are slow to abide by their responsibility to seek out, identify and prosecute the remaining perpetrators.