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Update No. 97/02 on ICRC activities in the former Yugoslavia

31-07-1997 Operational Update

 The following is the ICRC's contribution to the Third Donor Pledging Conference for Bosnia and Herzegovina held in Brussels on 23-24 July 1997:  

Despite an impressive number of working groups and commissions, the political aspects of the Peace Agreement are proving more difficult to implement than had been foreseen. There is a lack of willingness to put into practice on the ground what has been made perfect on paper. Although active hostilities are now over, people's attitudes are still largely conditioned by the logic of conflict. Consequently, the international community has decided to make compliance with the Peace Agreement a condition for any reconstruction assistance.

As a result, the whole process of rehabilitation and economic recovery is proceeding at an extremely slow pace. Social prospects for the population remain dismal. The difficulty in finding jobs and methods of subsistence have led to disillusionment, helplessness and destitution.

Under such conditions, the message from the ICRC to the International community remains unchanged since the end of the conflict: as long as rehabilitation efforts are not enabling self-sufficiency, there will be a need for support to the population, which is not conditional upon any political process.

The ICRC has a role to play and a challenge to meet in this respect:

- Humanitarian help must be provided unconditionally to the vulnerable groups among the population, to help them cope with the lasting effects of the war.

- Wounds inflicted by the war are stil l open, particularly for families left uncertain about the fate of their loved ones. On behalf of these families the ICRC is mobilising the authorities concerned and the international community to actively take part in the quest for answers.

The effort made by the ICRC, together with the Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Local Red Cross organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has to be seen as a contribution to strengthening community-based social structures.

In more specific terms, this implies the following:

 Gaps in the social welfare and public health systems must be bridged. Because many displaced people and other vulnerable members of the population are destitute as a result of the conflict, it is no easy task to bring living conditions up to a standard where people 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. In addition to running a seed programme in 1997 covering 200,000 families across the country, the ICRC, working with the local Red Cross, had 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 surgical and medical supplies to hospitals every month. These efforts to remedy shortcomings in the health sector remain vital since both Ministries of Health are facing the double burden of rebuilding structures damaged by the war and upgrading them to meet modern standards.

 The fate of the missing must be ascertained , to bring an end to the anguish suffered by families. Close to 20,000 individuals have been reported missing and are 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 terms with the past. On their behalf, the ICRC has not only mobilised the authorities in the form of a Working Group on missing persons, but has also called on the entire population to take an active part in the search for answers. So far, just over 1,220 cases have been solved.

During the latest meeting of the Working Group, held in ICRC headquarters in Geneva on 17-18 July 1997, representatives of the families and of the authorities agreed on the urgent need to resume joint exhumations as a means to clarify the fate of persons missing. The representatives of the authorities clearly stated their willingness to move on with this process as a matter of priority. Given that the identification of mortal remains is a complex and time-consuming procedure, both the families and the authorities are concerned that a decent - if temporary - resting place be provided for the unidentified mortal remains exhumed.

To this end, both the families and the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina appeal to the international community for assistance to enable the exhumations to proceed and to provide for provisional resting places for the mortal remains.

The Working Group also acknowledged the importance of finding legal and administrative solutions to the difficulties (regarding inheritance, marriage and parental authority, for example) encountered by the families as a result of their unclear status.

 The key local institutions in the social sector - the Local Red Cross in particular - have to be strengthened. The Red Cross in Bosnia and Herz egovina was torn apart along the same lines as the respective communities during the war. Today, the focus is on re-establishing links of communication and co-operation between the various local Red Crosses. This is a joint objective of the ICRC and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.