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The issue of missing persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia


 Although nothing can revive those who are dead, and maybe just because of that, we need to know the real fate of our loved ones. It is the only thing that can alleviate my, and others' pain. I want to know the truth about my children's fate.  

 I have a right to know. It is better to be sure. If they are dead, I want to know that. I am their father, and they are my children. Some people consider that it is better not to learn the truth if it is a tragic one. They consider that it is better to live in hope. But they are wrong. That is the way it is. I would, of course, also like to find my sons bones and bury them".  

 Osman A., whose 2 sons are still missing  


Nine years after the war broke out in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, thousands of families still do not know what happened to loved ones who disappeared, making it impossible for them to live a normal life. This terrible legacy has affected the entire region, be it as a result of the 1991 war in Croatia, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the military operations in the three former UN Sectors in Croatia in 1995.

Unfortunately, as time passes, it becomes less and less likely that missing persons will be found alive. However, for as long as their fate is unknown, their relatives will remain trapped in an agonizing limbo, unable to grieve and desperately hoping for the improbable.

This distress is intolerable and must be addressed. Each family wants a specific answer to its individual case; they simply need to know, even if the news is bad. Apart from the obvious emotional burden and psychological needs, there are also significant administrative and judicial problems to be addressed with regard to the status of the missing persons and their families.

Regrettably, the issue has too often been politicized at the expense of the families. A strictly humanitarian approach would no doubt ensure better success in providing the families with answers.

Restoring family links: ICRC activities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia  
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Tracing missing persons, International Review of the Red Cross n° 312 (1996)
Peace Agreement for Bosnia and Herzegovina : provisions concerning the ICRC , International Review of the Red Cross n° 311 (1996)