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ICRC activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, September 2001

30-09-2001 Operational Update



 Mission statement  


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in partnership with the Red Cross Society of Bosnia-Herzegovina (RCSBiH), supports the people of the country in their efforts to recover from the emotional and physical wounds of the conflict. It acts independently, but in close collaboration with the authorities and relevant national and international organizations. It supports initiatives aimed at upholding the dignity and well-being of the most vulnerable. The ICRC works to strengthen the Red Cross within the country, to enable it both to respond to immediate needs, and to assume its longer-term responsibilities in society.



 ICRC presence and structure in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH)  


The ICRC has been present in BiH since 1992. During the war it carried out a countrywide programme of protection, tracing and family reunification, medical and relief assistance, and promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL). Today, its primary focus is still the search for missing persons and protection, as well as cooperation with, and support to, the Red Cross Society of BiH (RCSBiH). A substantial mine awareness programme, the promotion of IHL among armed forces and civil society, relief assistance, and a primary health care programme are among its other activities

Apart from the main delegation in Sarajevo the ICRC has offices in Banja Luka, Bihac, Bijeljina, Gorazde, Mostar, Pale, Sarajevo, Trebinje, Tuzla and Zenica. There are currently 11 expatriate and 137 national staff. Red Cross National Societies from Switzerland, Norway and Spain are implementing a range of assistance programmes in areas around Banja Luka, Trebinje and Tuzla.

The main partner of the ICRC is the Red Cross Society of Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are seven staff members at its headquarters in Sarajevo and a countrywide network of some 155 regional/cantonal and municipal-level RC branches run by more than 7,000 personnel and volunteers. In addition to tracing and mine awareness programmes, which are carried out in conjunction wtih the ICRC, the RCSBiH is implementing several traditional Red Cross activities including blood donations, first aid, assistance, and youth projects.

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 ICRC programmes  



 Protection: Within its mandate under the Geneva Conventions, and in accordance with the responsibility invested in the institution under the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995, the ICRC carries out a vast operation to trace missing persons in BiH, initiates and implements psycho-social support programmes for families of the missing, re-establishes family links through the exchange of Red Cross messages, and carries out visits to persons detained in relation to the conflict. 

Under the terms of Article five, Annexe seven of the Dayton Agreement the signatories are obliged to cooperate fully with the ICRC in trying to establish the fate of more than 20,000 persons in BiH whose families have submitted tracing requests to the ICRC.

A Working Group chaired by the ICRC and made up of representatives from the concerned authorities (including the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), local Red Cross personnel and family associations was set up in 1996 to facilitate the exchange of information about the missing. The ICRC suspended it in 1999 when its proceedings were overshadowed by political debate and failed to provide sufficient results. The ICRC, however, con tinues to submit tracing requests to the parties on a bilateral basis, and is working strenuously to create the circumstances for reconvening this forum.

In addition to its traditional tracing activities, the ICRC also uses other mechanisms in the search for, and identification of, mortal remains. These include the publication of ‘Books of the Missing’, listing all the names of people for whom a tracing request has been opened with the ICRC, the printing of'Books of Personal Belongings'with photos of clothes and possessions found with mortal remains, the collection of ante mortem data, and support to exhumations by providing transport for the commissioners, and body bags, gloves, boots and other protective clothing to those carrying out the work. ICRC support to the families of the missing ranges from facilitating transport to exhumations, identifications, commemorations and meetings, assistance with public relations and publicity campaigns, helping to equip family associations’ offices, establishing psycho-social referral systems for families and individuals during consultations of the Photo Books, and specific psycho-social projects with family associations.

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 Cooperation: In September 2000, the decision regulating the legal status of the Red Cross Society of Bosnia-Herzegovina (RCSBiH) was adopted by the State Council of Ministers, and officially published in the Government Gazette. This move was the culmination of a two-yea r process whereby the two entity Red Cross organizations, Federation BiH Red Cross and Republika Srpska Red Cross, worked together via an inter-entity contact group to lay the groundwork for the formation and recognition of the Red Cross National Society.

The recognition of the RCSBiH by the ICRC took place on 8 May 2001. The new National Society was provisionally admitted into the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies a week later.

The ICRC continues to assist with the setting up of its essential structures and with capacity building. Its cooperation on an operational level in the fields of tracing, mine awareness, conflict preparedness and response, and Red Cross Law and Fundamental Principles is ongoing. Three Red Cross National Societies are working on projects with the entity-level Red Cross branches under ICRC auspices: the Norwegian Red Cross (institutional development in four geriatric/psychiatric institutions around Banja Luka), the Spanish Red Cross (psycho-social support for children affected by armed conflict in Trebinje) and the Swiss Red Cross (psycho-social and community-based support for displaced persons in Mihatovici Settlement near Tuzla).

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 Mine awareness: The ICRC’s mine awareness programme began in 1996 as an emergency plan to reduce the number of accidents from mines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) in heavily contaminated areas. This programme is part of th e ICRC’s overall involvment in the development of mine action and mine awareness projects, and to its support for the world-wide campaign to ban the production, sale, stockpiling and use of antipersonnel mines, known as the Ottawa treaty.

The number of mine accidents in BiH has come down from an average of 50 per month in 1996, to around eight per month today. This is in large part due to the intensive mine awareness programmes carried out by the ICRC together with entity-level and local Red Cross branches, and a number of other players involved in humanitarian demining, mine action and victim assistance.

The ICRC’s programme is implemented through a countrywide network of trained Red Cross mine awareness instructors working at grass roots level on community-based projects targeting children, IDPs, returnees, refugees and high-risk groups of local residents such as farmers, hunters, fishermen and woodcutters. 

Projects include data gathering, mine awareness presentations, networking and problem solving with local communities and the authorities, media campaigns on radio and TV, mine awareness competitions in schools, and a vast distribution of leaflets, posters, and other mine awareness publicity materials.

The ICRC is the only organization working at the community level which is systematically gathering data on mine victims in BiH. The statistics are used to help shape the ICRC’s mine action policies in BiH, and are published on the institution's web site ( The statistics are also shared with other oganizations and agencies which are working locally on mine awareness schemes, victim assistance and demining.

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 Communication and promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL):  The ICRC conducts training activities with officers from the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (AFBiH), and the Republika Srpska (VRS) armies, which are designed to assist them integrate IHL fully into their training and practice. These activities are either held jointly or individually with each entity army, and are conducted by former, high-ranking military personnel now working as Armed Forces Delegates with the ICRC. They also facilitate the integration of sessions on IHL into the two armies'own training workshops and senior officer meetings. Translations of ICRC publications on IHL are supplied to the libraries of both entity armies on a regular basis. Presentations on the mandate and activities of the ICRC and on International Humanitarian Law are given to Civil and Military Cooperation (CIMIC) officers and other SFOR units throughout BiH.

The ICRC is also engaged in a number of campaigns aimed at stimulating debate within civil society with a view to foster respect for IHL. Activities include roundtable debates to promote discussion on issues such as the protection of civilians in times of conflict, or the effect of war on women, as well as other events such as seminars and workshops with academics, journalists and prominent public figures. There are also travelling exhibitions of artwork and photographs illustrating aspects of IHL, and presentation videos. 

A project to introduce IHL training into secondary education has been piloted in three schools, in Banja Luka, Mostar and Tuzla. Called'Exploring Humanitarian Law'(EHL), it promotes discussion and debate about respect for life and humanitarian values in times of war or its aftermath, as well as during civil unrest. The incorporation of training on International Humanitarian Law into universities'law faculties is also being actively encouraged at the highest levels. 

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 Primary Health: The Primary Health Care programme builds on the relationship established between the ICRC and health professionals during the war. It aims to facilitate reform within the primary health care system throughout BiH by working directly with health professionals, representatives from different health sectors, and with the general public. A Healthy Communities project enables participants to come together to identify, analyse, prioritize and take action on health issues, according to locally identified needs. Elsewhere, nurses in BiH are working with the World Health Organization's'Learning Materials in Nursing'(LEMON) self-instruction modules which have been translated, printed and widely distributed by the ICRC.

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 Relief Assistance (Home Care): This is a Red Cross Movement programme involving the RCSBiH, the International Federation and the ICRC. Food supplies are provided on a monthly basis to 10,000 vulnerable, mainly elderly people throughout BiH. Each beneficiary receives a food parcel containing basic essentials such as sugar, rice, beans, milk powder, cheese and vegetable oil, as well as five kilograms of flour. ICRC support is also given to the National Society for the coordination of ad hoc relief distributions, so as to help the RCSBiH be in a postion to take over full coordination of these programmes by the end of 2001.