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Serbia and Montenegro: ICRC activities in a context of transition

31-03-2005 Operational Update

Years after the conflicts in southeastern Europe, thousands of persons are still unaccounted for, and their families are desperately waiting for news about their fate. The ICRC remains active in helping the families of the missing and others still affected by the consequences of the violence.


  Roma beneficiaries, Kraljevo    
    In Serbia and Montenegro, hundreds of thousands of people who had to flee their homes due to armed conflicts are trying to find their place in a society profoundly affected by war.

In Kosovo, relations between the different communities continue to be tense. The question of the final status of the province has not been resolved, resulting in economic decline and a volatile security situation.

 Helping the families of Missing Persons  


Following a year-long stalemate, the ICRC, acting as a neutral intermediary, chaired the second meeting of the Working Group on missing persons between Kosovo and Serbian authorities in March 2005. Nearly 3,000 persons remain unaccounted for following the events in Kosovo between January 1998 and December 2000.

The ICRC has also been publishing regular updates of the'Book of the Missing'used by concerned organisations and authorities.

To draw attention to the problems of the families of the missing, the ICRC in Belgrade has published a legal study suggesting changes in local legislation and legal practice. It also advises authorities on how better to inform the families of their rights under the law.
ICRC and local Red Cross staff help mourners at a reburial ceremony    

In late 2004, the ICRC organised workshops in Serbia and Montenegro to help about 250 families with relatives missing due to the conflicts in the region. In addition to receiving moral and psychological support, the families learned how to deal with the social, administrative and legal problems they face. The management of these workshops has now been handed over to associations regrouping the families.


In Kosovo, the ICRC funds the work of psychosocial support groups for families with missing relatives. In 2004, the ICRC sponsored 10 small-scale support group projects, benefiting about 150 families. Furthermore, the ICRC and the local Red Cross provide water and first aid services at mass reburial ceremonies for persons previously unaccounted for.
In late December 2004, the ICRC also provided stoves and firewood for about 100 poor families with missing relatives.


 Helping the Kosovo displaced and minority communities  

At the end of 2004, five years after the conflict in Kosovo, the ICRC phased out direct assistance programmes to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Serbia and Montenegro. However, it continues to draw the attention of the authorities and donors to their problems. The ICRC is currently evaluating the impact of these programmes.  
Community based project in Kraljevo for displaced women 

Initially, the ICRC provided massive assistance to IDPs who fled Kosovo. In 1999, about 16,500 tonnes of food were distributed to nearly 200,000 people. Later, the ICRC shifted to providing income generating projects. Nearly 8,700 IDP households benefited from micro-credits, vocational training for young people and from grants to buy tools, livestock and greenhouses.

In cooperation with the government, the ICRC also provided cash assistance to more than 7,200 households of the most vulnerable IDPs.

In Kosovo, throughout 2004, the ICRC repeatedly drew the attention of concerned local and international authorities to problems faced by minority communities in terms of their security, access to health care and living conditions in displacement. Some 2,500 IDPs, who left their homes following riots in March 2004, were assisted with food and/or essential household items during the year.

In late 2004, the ICRC also helped about 100 vulnerable displaced families of minority communities with stoves and firewood.

Zeneva health post, Kraljevo  
In December 2004, the ICRC ended its involvement in a three-year pilot project, undertaken with the Health Ministry, to meet the primary health care (PHC) needs of Kraljevo municipality, which has the country's highest concentration of IDPs, refugees and social hardship cases. The project aimed to develop a sustainable primary health care system with an emphasis on the needs of IDPs and vulnerable groups. The Kraljevo model is now being used in Belgrade within the framework of the PHC reform in Serbia. More information on  

 Cooperation with the Red Cross  

In Serbia and Montenegro, the main goal of the community-based projects launched by the ICRC in 2001 is to improve relations between the resident population and IDPs from Kosovo in local communities. Financed by the ICRC, Serbia and Montenegro Red Cross branches have run more than 100 projects to help about 10,000 particularly vulnerable IDPs, including those with missing relatives, those living isolated in collective centres and Roma.

In addition, the ICRC supports capacity-building initiatives of the Serbia-Montenegro Red Cross Society (SMRCS) to strengthen its ability to act in the event of conflict.

In Kosovo, the ICRC cooperates with and supports the two operating Red Cross structures, focusing on capacity building in the areas of tracing, assistance to the most vulnerable members of society, and raising awareness of the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Representatives of both Red Cross structures met several times in 2004 to discuss activities, but have so far not jointly implemented projects.

Promoting international humanitarian law (IHL)

Sponsored by the ICRC, the Belgrade Faculty of Political Science and the national Red Cross organised the first regional IHL course in October 2004. Law professors from the region and international experts debated IHL rules and principles, case law and case studies with 40 students and assistant lecturers from across the region. The ICRC also provided books for an IHL research and study centre opened by the faculty. 

In September 2004, the Council of Ministers of the State Union of Serbia-Montenegro decided to establish a federal Commission for International Humanitarian Law in order to promote IHL development and implementation.

To introduce the young generation to IHL, the ICRC runs a special programme,'Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL)'. The programme was tested in 16 high schools in Belgrade and at the National Secondary Police School and will also be introduced in secondary schools in South Serbia, an ethnically mixed region. An evaluation of its impact has shown an increase in social responsibility among the young people surveyed.

Together with the national Red Cross, the ICRC has been organising different IHL and Human Rights Law activities with the Serbia-Montenegro armed and security forces and the National Centre for Peace-Keeping Missions. In March 2005, an IHL Expert Panel meeting was held to examine IHL training and education in the Armed Forces.

In order to promote International Humanitarian Law among arms carriers in Kosovo, the ICRC organised different presentations for the Kosovo Force (KFOR) and Kosovo Police Service units. In February 2005, the ICRC also met 25 US military personnel based at the US KFOR detention facility in Bondsteel, Ferizaj/Urosevac to discuss the organizations relationship with the military and its visits to detainees.

The ICRC maintains regular contacts with the Ministry of Education to discuss a Memorandum of Understanding on the introduction of the'Exploring Humanitarian Law (EHL)'programme in secondary schools in Kosovo.

The Belgrade delegation currently has 10 international and 136 national staff. Its main office is in the capital, with a sub-delegation in Podgorica, Montenegro. The ICRC also has offices in Kraljevo, Nis and Bujanovac, as well as two " antennas " in Novi Sad and Kragujevac.

The ICRC's mission in Kosovo currently employs seven international and 48 national staff. The main office is in Pristina with other offices in the Northern and Southern parts of Mitrovica, in Gracanica, Peja/Pec, Gjakova/Djakovica, Prizren, and in Gjilan/Gnjilane.