Croatia: ICRC statement at launch of missing persons book

18-07-2012 Statement

At the launch of the third edition of the Book of Missing Persons on the Territory of the Republic of Croatia, Barbara Hintermann Marclay (head of ICRC operations for North America, Western, Central and South-Eastern Europe) talked about what has been achieved and what still needs to be done.

Mr President,
Representatives of the associations of the families of missing persons, My dear colleagues from the Red Cross,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the years, I have listened to dozens of people who are still missing a family member from the armed conflict of the 1990s. Every story is different, yet all echo the same basic truth: the one thing harder than losing a family member is the uncertainty of not knowing what actually happened to him or her. The emptiness in the eyes of those left behind begs to be filled with answers: is she or is he really dead? How did he or she die? Where is the body? Can I give a proper farewell according to the rites and customs I am used to? And once these and many more questions are answered, I will finally be able to close this painful chapter and move on with my life.

In 1995, when the armed conflict in Croatia ended, it left thousands killed, homes destroyed, infrastructure shattered, lives displaced and thousands of families not knowing what had happened to their closest relatives. All they knew was that people they loved had disappeared without trace, in a whirlwind of violence.

Much has changed since then. But the families of 2,322 people listed in the third edition of the Book of Persons Missing on the Territory of the Republic of Croatia still do not know what happened to their loved ones, or else cannot recover their bodies and bury them with dignity.

This third edition is the result of a joint effort. We warmly thank the Croatian Red Cross and the Administration of Detained and Missing Persons of the Croatian Ministry of Veterans for all the work they did in preparing and consolidating the data.

According to the records of the ICRC, there are still over 13,000 people missing in the region as a result of the conflicts of the 1990s: 8,737 in relation to the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina; 2,322 in relation to the conflict in Croatia and 1,774 in relation to the conflict in Kosovo.

Of the 6,406 people reported to the ICRC as missing in Croatia, it has been possible to establish the fate of 4,084. Compared to many conflicts in the world, this is a good record. It shows the commitment and efforts the authorities and others have made in dealing with this long-lasting human tragedy, with this challenging and complex humanitarian task.

However, further action is needed, because information has still not been made available regarding the whereabouts of the graves of many missing persons. In addition, there are 900 sets of remains awaiting identification in mortuaries and several hundred sets of remains that have yet to be exhumed from known gravesites. Families of missing persons are impatiently waiting for answers. And we are in a race against time, because people are getting older and desperately want to know the fate of their beloved ones.

Behind each and every name there are individual men, women and children, families from all ethnic backgrounds, whose lives are still torn apart by the anguish of not knowing what has happened to their relatives. Destroyed houses are re-built, many wounds heal as time passes. But for the families of missing persons, the pain gets worse with the passage of time. The absence of answers continues to be a burden for them and for the society.

We urge the authorities in Zagreb and Belgrade to intensify their endeavours. The families of the missing cannot wait any longer and they should not wait any longer.