Croatia: Red Cross – after 17 years still searching for human remains

Barbara Hintermann Marclay, ICRC Photo: Fred Joli-CICR

Barbara Hintermann Marclay (head of ICRC operations for North America, Western, Central and South-Eastern Europe) said, July 18, at the launch of third edition of the Book of Missing Persons on the territory of Croatia:

In 1995, when the armed conflict in Croatia ended, it left thousands killed, homes destroyed, infrastructure shattered, lives displaced and thousands of families not knowing what had happened to their closest relatives. All they knew was that people they loved had disappeared without trace, in a whirlwind of violence.

Much has changed since then. But the families of 2,322 people listed in the third edition of the Book of Persons Missing on the Territory of the Republic of Croatia still do not know what happened to their loved ones, or else cannot recover their bodies and bury them with dignity…

According to the records of the ICRC, there are still over 13,000 people missing in the region as a result of the conflicts of the 1990s: 8,737 in relation to the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina; 2,322 in relation to the conflict in Croatia and 1,774 in relation to the conflict in Kosovo.

Of the 6,406 people reported to the ICRC as missing in Croatia, it has been possible to establish the fate of 4,084. Compared to many conflicts in the world, this is a good record. It shows the commitment and efforts the authorities and others have made in dealing with this long-lasting human tragedy, with this challenging and complex humanitarian task.

However, further action is needed, because information has still not been made available regarding the whereabouts of the graves of many missing persons. In addition, there are 900 sets of remains awaiting identification in mortuaries and several hundred sets of remains that have yet to be exhumed from known gravesites. Families of missing persons are impatiently waiting for answers. And we are in a race against time, because people are getting older and desperately want to know the fate of their beloved ones…”

At the Zagreb, Croatia, launch of the Book of Missing Persons president Ivo Josipovic said that the “question of the missing is one of the most important political questions, but that in solving that question there must be no politics.”

For me, complete peace in the region will appear at the moment when the destiny of the last person from the missing list is known, not only in Croatia but in other countries as well,” Josipovic emphasised.

Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Grujic, president of the Croatian Office for the interned and missing persons said that in the relations with Serbia there are still unsolved questions with regards to the delivery of their information about possible graves on the formerly Serb occupied territory in Croatia and in Serbia, and problems with accessing information about missing persons.

30 August 2012 will mark the time by which Croatia needs to file its reply to Serbia’s counter claim to Croatia’s lawsuit at the International Court of Justice against Serbia for genocide. The current Croatian government (particularly foreign minister Vesna Pusic) had been hinting in the past several months that Croatia may withdraw its claim at the ICJ under certain conditions. One of the conditions she listed is related to the unresolved missing persons issue, i.e. greater cooperation by Serbia was expected.

I shudder to think that some aspects referred to at the launch of the third edition of the Book of Missing Persons on the Territory of Republic of Croatia – i.e. reference to Serbia’s cooperation (which is still superficial and appallingly incomplete) in the search for missing persons from the 1990’s Serb aggression against Croatia, may be ticked-off as a positive mark for Serbia and rattle the pursuit of Croatia’s ICJ case against Serbia for genocide.

Even if all missing persons’ remains are located that does not in any shape or form mitigate the fact that genocide occurred, that gross human and property damage was done to Croatia. The ICJ case must continue and must be heard as it, indeed, carries the platform where the truth of the Croatian Homeland War and the absolute need for Croatia to defend its people and territory – for self-preservation and self determination rights – will also be corroborated on a wider scale than in any other international criminal court, bringing with it an important aspect necessary to achieve eventual peace in the region. Apart from that, all victims from the times of Serb aggression over Croatian territory have an absolute right to justice and the Croatian government bears the highest responsibility of pursuing all avenues in bringing that justice. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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