Persons unaccounted for as a result of armed conflicts or internal violence in the Balkans
The Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe met in Warsaw on 23 November and discussed the issue of missing persons in the Balkans. Addressing the meeting, the ICRC welcomed the commitment of the Council of Europe and expressed the hope that the Council and the Member States would take concrete steps.
On behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross, please allow me to thank you, and through you, the Standing Committee and the Assembly, for giving us the floor on the very important subject of missing persons in the Balkans. As the guardian of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflicts, and more generally as an institution devoted to the protection of, and assistance to, victims of conflict and violence, the ICRC feels duty-bound and pleased to acknowledge here the strong and active support extended to it on this topic by both the Parliamentary Assembly and the Commissioner for Human Rights.
Nearly ten years after the end of the conflicts in Croatia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and five years after the conflict in Kosovo, the fate of more than 20,000 persons has not yet been clarified. This, despite the fact that - as the resolution before you today acknowledges - the " Right to Know " the fate of missing relatives is a fundamental right of the families concerned and should be respected and enacted.
As well as the often huge emotional burden of not knowing the fate of loved ones, families of missing persons face a whole host of other problems, including many economic and financial difficulties as alluded to in paragraph 4 of the current resolution.
Progress in this major humanitarian issue is too slow and undoubtedly jeopardizes the global efforts of the international community to build a lasting peace in the region. The very fact that still so many families remain without news on the fate of their relatives can only feed resentment between the communities affected and hamper reconciliation a nd, therefore, the return of displaced persons and refugees.
That is why the importance of shedding light on the fate of thousands of missing persons in the Balkans must remain a priority for the Council of Europe.
There has been some progress in recent years, including the recent adoption of a State Law on Missing Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, there is still a lot to do and a real need for the Council of Europe to support improvement in the field of cooperation among states and other entities concerned regarding the exchange of information related to the missing, and speeding up of the process of exhumation, identification and return of human remains.
Let us also not forget other contexts in Europe where the issue of the missing remains unsolved and families wait anxiously for news more than 10 years after the conflict (in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in the context of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, and Chechnya), and in the case of Cyprus, more than 30 years after the conflict (Cyprus). The wider international community also has a responsibility not to forget about those missing, and to unite efforts between national and international organizations to bring answers to those families.
The International Conference on the Missing that was hosted by the ICRC in Geneva in February 2003 laid the groundwork for a concerted international effort to address the issue of the missing. Thanks to the wide range of information and examples of good practice contributed by the experts and governments'representatives during this meeting, there are more tools – and hopefully a greater willingness – to address now the issue of the missing in a more effective manner.
The ICRC would like to acknowledge the contribution of the Council of Europe, represented by the Assembly and the Commissioner, to the said International Conference on the Missing and to the International Confe rence of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held later in 2003. The ICRC views today's draft resolution and recommendation as evidence of the ongoing commitment of the Council of Europe to the issue of missing persons.
We trust that this commitment will remain as strong as ever and that the relevant institutions of the Council of Europe will support states and other parties in meeting the objectives set in the draft resolution and recommendation and, more generally, will continue to demonstrate their concern and commitment to the issue of the missing as part of their frequently reaffirmed support for international humanitarian law and the ICRC.
Time passing is not healing the families of the missing. Only answers can help them look towards the future and prevent their anguish from turning into permanent hatred.
Thank you, Mr President, for your attention.
The report, the resolution and the recommendation adopted in Warsaw are available on the Council of Europe website inEnglish .