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Statement of the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Working Meeting on Implementation of Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement

08-03-1996 Statement

by Mr Paul Grossrieder, Deputy Director of Operations of the ICRC.

Madam High Commissioner


Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the time when the peace accord was being brokered last autumn, the ICRC, like many other humanitarian organizations in the former Yugoslavia, warned that until rehabilitation and reconstruction had some effect, emergency aid was still needed for the destitute populations to survive the winter. No change was expected until spring 1996, when the international community would have set up its coordination units for rehabilitation and reconstruction, enabling the humanitarian organizations to reassess the situation and perhaps scale down their emergency assistance programmes.

Since then, in the momentum created by the signing of the peace accord, several confidence-building measures have been taken with the aim of removing obstacles to reconciliation. The ICRC was entrusted with two specific tasks. First, it has taken active part in the process of releasing detainees: 800 of them have meanwhile been released, but work remains to be done, as more than 200 are still waiting to be set free. The second task is now to endeavour, as stipulated in Annex 7, to ascertain the fate of thousands of people who remain unaccounted for. Progress in this grievous issue is still very slow, and prolonged efforts will doubtless be required before the distressed families can be fully informed about the fate of their missing relatives. The ICRC chaired a first meeting on 1 March in the office of the High Representative in Sarajevo, attended by representatives of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of the Republika Srpska; other meetings are planned in the next few weeks to establish the rules and procedure that will enable progress to be made. Turning briefly to landmines and their horrendous effects, by next week the ICRC will have launched a mine awareness campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia.

The emergency winter programmes will soon be completed. The time has come for a new assessment of the situation of the populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When considering the terms of Annex 7 on Refugees and Displaced Persons, three essential questions arise:

1. Can we expect that local structures will soon be able to provide adequate living conditions, resources and basic services for the populations, so that humanitarian emergency relief programmes can be phased out?

2. Is the security situation now such that people displaced by the conflict or forced away by the policy of ethnic cleansing can either return to their homes or resettle elsewhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

3. When will local conditions, in terms of both resources and security, allow the absorption into Bosnia and Herzegovina of all refugees currently accommodated abroad?

With regard to assistance, the present assessment is that although the considerable efforts made in recent months have brought about a general improvement, the population cannot yet cope without international humanitarian aid, and will not be able to do so in the near future. The ICRC will therefore extend its emergency assistance programmes, with the following main points of emphasis:

*today, even though the hostilities are over, population movements are still taking place and newly displaced persons are asking for relocation in Bosnia and Herzegovina: an estimated 50,000 Bosnian Serbs have moved or are still moving from the suburbs of Sarajevo to the Republika Srpska, where it has not yet been possible to find proper accommodation for the approximately 150,000 displaced people who arrived in autumn 1995 and survived the winter in poor living conditions, most of them in houses partly destroyed and patched up with plastic sheeting. The ICRC has responded by providing emergency aid in the form of food, medical and other relief supplies to the local structures in charge of receiving this new influx of people in distress; 

*in addition, six National Red Cross Societies are continuing communal kitchen programmes and regular distributions of food and hygiene assistance to some 150,000 hardship cases throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina;

*as international efforts to rehabilitate agriculture appear unlikely to take effect in time for this year's sowing season, the ICRC has decided, for the third consecutive year, to distribute seed in early 1996 so as to enable some 200,000 families to grow part of the food they require;

*in the field of public health, ICRC support for medical facilities and water supply services continues undiminished in order to meet the needs identified on the spot.

With regard to security, owing to the fragility of the structures necessary for the cohesion of any civil society, the process of building a comprehensive peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina is still at risk. Blind violence and a complete lack of respect for the precepts of international humanitarian law have created deep resentment and bitterness. Segregation along ethnic lines has reached such a point that even mixed families tend to be rejected by the communities. Moreover, the apprehension and distrust aroused by a change of authority over a given area, even when that change has been negotiated, are such that they trigger the displacement of entire populations. The ICRC can only stress the importance of the human factor and warn against the psychological consequences of the war, with all the fear and rancour it has left behind, which might even now undermine the current peace process. This consideration takes on even gr eater importance at a time when some two million people, who left the country during the hostilities, are now expected to return. They will need to be not only resettled, but also reintegrated in local society.

Under such conditions, the immediate priority is to reinforce the local and national judicial structures so as to provide adequate security for all members of the population in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It should be noted that in the present situation ICRC work unfortunately still largely consists of providing protection for people subjected to harassment or held in detention, sometimes for the sole reason that their names indicate a different ethnic origin. The monitoring of human rights should not take place at the international level alone: rather than play a supervisory role, the international community should provide tangible support for local and national authorities, which should assume genuine control over the human rights situation in their respective areas. This support should be aimed above all at restoring an attitude of tolerance for and among the various cultural groups.

To sum up, considerable efforts have been made over the past month to implement the peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have led to an improvement in conditions as a whole, including safety conditions for the population. As we meet here in Oslo today, with the winter drawing to a close, the situation appears much clearer than it did during our first meeting in Geneva, on 16 January. Nonetheless, owing to the complexity of the problems to be solved, it looks as though much remains to be done before rehabilitation efforts bring about a situation in which the civilian population can live in an atmosphere of safety for all and rely on its own resources. In this sense, the ICRC wholeheartedly backs the conditions laid down by UNHCR which state, among other things, that the return and rapatriation process should take into account the capacity of absorption of ret urnees in Bosnia and Herzegovina. To support the general efforts towards peace and stability, the ICRC, together with all components of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement will therefore continue to provide assistance and, by raising the issue of safety and the preservation of human dignity, to protect both those who are now considering returning and those who, despite all odds, have decided to stay. This work will go on until the local structures can provide the necessary resources and guarantees. 

 Mr Paul Grossrieder     is Deputy Director of Operations of the ICRC  

Oslo, 8 March 1996

Ref. DP(1996)8