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Statement to the Humanitarian Issues Working Group

23-04-1997 Statement

by Angelo Gnaedinger, delegate general for Western and Central Europe and the Balkans of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 23 April 1997.

On the basis of its overall assessment of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, what the ICRC has to say today differs little from what it said four months ago, and not much from its comments at earlier sessions of the HIWG.

If peace and reconciliation are to be achieved, Bosnia and Herzegovina must at all costs break out of the vicious circle in which it is currently caught up.

Implementation of the political aspects of the peace agreement is proving to be more difficult than anticipated. Bosnia remains three countries in one, a far cry from the reunified land that the Dayton Peace Agreement sought to establish. The different communities have withdrawn into themselves and are still offering considerable resistance to the return of refugees to their original homes. Being conditional upon compliance with the Dayton accords, international help to reconstruct the war-torn country is arriving too slowly. Similar reluctance is being shown by private companies and individuals. Indeed, where would they find the confidence required for private investment? As a consequence, the economy is showing very few signs of taking off. Social prospects for the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina remain dismal. The very slow progress of reconstruction and reform and the resulting difficulty in finding jobs have led to deep disillusionment.

 These hard realities have as a consequence that important sectors of society remain extremely vulnerable.  

The ICRC, together with Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and loc al Red Cross organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina have a role to play and a responsibility to meet in this respect.


 Gaps in the social welfare and public health systems must be bridged.  

As many displaced people and other groups are destitute, it is no easy task to bring living conditions up to a standard where the population will be able to cope without outside help. Today, more than 200,000 people are still dependent on regular food supplies from the Red Cross. Among them, tens of thousands endure long queues every day for a hot meal in one of the community kitchens run by the Red Cross. In addition to running a seed programme covering 200,000 families in the country, the ICRC, working with the local Red Cross, has devised a new relief strategy consisting of programmes to provide vulnerable families with the means of small-scale production and to promote small job-creation schemes.

The ICRC continues to deliver assistance to hospitals every month. These efforts to remedy the shortcomings in the health sector remain vital in view of the divisions between and the weaknesses of the respective Ministries of Health. 

 Furthermore, to bring an end to the anguish suffered by families and to defuse social tension, it is absolutely essential to ascertain the fate of the missing.  

Close to 19,000 individuals are reportedly unaccounted for and being sought by their relatives and friends. This situation places hundreds of thousands of people under considerable stress every day of their lives. The ICRC's role is to collect all available information and, by putting an end to their uncertainty, help the families to start the mourning process and come to ter ms with the past. On their behalf, the ICRC has not only mobilized the authorities but also called on the entire population to take an active part in the search for answers. So far about 1,000 cases have been elucidated, and the relevant information has been passed on to the families concerned.

The conflict has left a bitter legacy of hatred and resentment which must be overcome.

Shaken by years of war and faced with an uncertain future, people feel helpless and discouraged. This is the setting in which we must seek to promote social and economic recovery and continue to encourage the resumption of dialogue between the various communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The conditions that must be met for the safe return of refugees in acceptable circumstances remain the same as year ago: freedom of movement secured by the rule of law and a guaranteed and generally accepted legal system, and socio-economic conditions ensuring an acceptable standard of living for the returnees. That, in the opinion of the ICRC, is the central issue to be addressed by this present meeting. This country emerging from war continues to need time, understanding and a great deal of help to recover.