Update No. 96/6 on ICRC activities in the former Yugoslavia
12-04-1996 Operational Update
Release of detainees
Over the last few weeks the ICRC has continued to urge the authorities concerned to proceed with the immediate and unconditional release and transfer of persons still detained in connection with the conflict who cannot be reasonably suspected of war crimes. This has been a long and difficult process. On several occasions releases were hard to implement as the parties had difficulties in switching from their tried and true practice of exchanging prisoners to a global release, as stipulated in the Peace Agreement. On 5 April, following discussions with the High Representative and the Contact Group in Sarajevo, the Parties finally agreed that remaining prisoners against whom there were no substantiated allegations of war crimes would be released within a day. The others were to be transferred to two jails in Sarajevo: one on Bosnian Federation territory and the other on Republika Srpska territory, while their legal files would be submitted to a representative of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY).
As of 10 April, the situation is as follows:
- since 4 January, 990 detainees have been released by the parties as stipulated in the Peace Agreement;
- 36 detainees are being kept in two centralized places of detention. Their legal files have been transmitted to the ICTFY for investigation.
The ICRC will continue to monitor the conditions of detention of these people. In the case of those people recently arrested, the ICRC will coordinate its work with the Human Right Coordination Center in Sarajevo and with the International Police Task Force so as to avoid duplications detrimental to the detainees.
ICRC prison visits in the Hague
On 11 April the ICRC conducted its third visit to detainees under investigation in the Detention Unit of the ICTFY in the Hague. After having been approached by the ICRC, the President of the ICTFY proposed in a letter of 28 April 1995 that the institution should inspect " the conditions of detention and the treatment of persons awaiting trial or appeal before the Tribunal or otherwise detained on the authority of the Tribunal in the Hague " . The ICRC has thus made itself available to carry out visits in accordance with its standard procedures (unimpeded and repeated access to all detainees and to all places of detention, interviews with detainees in private and registration of detainees).
Tracing the missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The ICRC has continued its efforts to set up an efficient system for gathering and sharing information on the missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to inform relatives of the fate of these people. Two major events recently took place:
The second ICRC-chaired Working Group meeting
This meeting, initiating the operational process for the search of persons still unaccounted for, took place in the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo on 30 March. It was attended by representatives of the Republic (now State) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, as members of the Working Group, as well as by representatives of the Republic of Croatia, the Contact Group (France, the Russian Federation and the United States), IFOR and the UN Expert on the Missing in the Former Yugoslavia, in their capacity as observers. The objectives of the Working Group were reiterated:
i) the release of information on prisoners already identified through notification by the authorities, allegations of co-detainees or by the ICRC through its visits and whose names have not appeared on any lists during the release process. These prisoners are thus still unaccounted for. So far, some 100 cases have been solved by the ICRC, partially on the basis of information given by the parties. However, there are still more than 600 cases pending and the ICRC has urged the parties to proceed with the necessary inquiries to solve these cases;
ii) the provision of lists of the first 10,000 names of persons still unaccounted for, drawn up by the ICRC for all members of the Working Group. These lists comprise:
- 2,000 cases stemming from tracing requests submitted by families to the ICRC for transmission to the concerned authorities;
- 3,000 names of persons reportedly captured by the armed forces of the Republika Srpska after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995;
- 5,000 names of persons who reportedly escaped from Srebrenica in July 1995 and have not reappeared.
The ICRC had already submitted these 10,000 cases to the authorities concerned. As no answers have been forthcoming, they are now being transmitted to the High Representative and all members of the Working Group.
iii) the parties'performance in carrying out the necessary inquiries about missing persons in order to provide answers and solve as many cases as possible. In the meantime, the ICRC will continue its work to update information on the missing gathered from their families. In addition, the parties committed themselves to supporting the ICRC-launched campaign asking the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina to use the institution's tracing services and file requests for relatives unaccounted for, or to provide information on missing persons so that their fate can be clarified.
The fourth meeting of the Expert Group on Exhumation and Missing Persons
This was held in the Swiss Permanent Mission in Geneva on 3 April. The meeting was chaired by the Office of the High Representative and attended by the UN Expert on Missing in the Former Yugoslavia, representatives of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal and the ICRC (representatives of IFOR and Physicians for Human Rights were unable to attend). The purpose of this Expert Group is to ensure that there is coordination among those agencies working to determine the fate of the missing and to inform their families. The idea of designating a focal point attached to the High Representative's office was welcomed, with its primary aim being to " enhance cooperation among members of the Group through suggesting sequencing of efforts and by advising members concerning conflicts or overlapping in their work, and identifying possibilities for additional information sharing " .
A report by experts from Physicians for Human Rights clearly demonstrated that the exhumation of dead bodies should be the last step in the process of solving or confirming the identity of persons unaccounted for. Above all, it was important to set up an " ante mortem database " before proceeding with exhumation. According to the report, even a long and expensive forensic investigation process would allow very few of the bodies examined to be identified. Furthermore, initiating exhumations immediately raises the hopes of families seeking information on their missing next-of-kin, which means that the entire process must be carried through to completion whatever the cost. For these reasons the ICRC is advocating a progressive approach with the following stages:
1. completing the gathering of information from the families;
2. receiving answers from the authorities concerned;
3. collating eyewitness accounts, on a confidential basis, to try to solve as many cases
Tracing the missing in Croatia
The fate of people still missing following the conflict which started in Croatia in 1991 has yet to be established. On 1 October 1992, a joint inter-governmental Commission involving the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was set up under the auspices of the ICRC. Its purpose was to encourage the parties to exchange information on persons unaccounted for. In early 1994, after achieving only limited results (owing to the parties'politicization of the Commission's work) this Commission was dissolved at a meeting between the two Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Zagreb. On 17 November 1995, the two parties signed a bilateral agreement in Dayton re-establishing the J oint Commission, agreeing to cooperate fully in the search for persons unaccounted for and endeavouring " to undertake, without delay, the exchange of complete and precise information about missing persons " . Since then this commission has met twice, once in Zagreb and once in Belgrade, with the ICRC present as an observer.
All 3,000 tracing requests gathered by the ICRC, the Croatian and the Yugoslav National Red Cross Societies (the latter two working as National Information Bureaux) have been processed by the ICRC. Another 400 cases of people reported missing as a result of the 1995 military operations in Western Slavonia and the former Sectors North and South now have to be added to this number. The priority is currently to convince the parties of their responsibility to release all information in their possession and to create the proper political conditions under which they might do so, in order to be able to inform the families of the fate of their relatives.