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)

While new mass graves in Croatia are dug up President Josipovic nebulises Serb war crimes

At the mass grave in Taboriste near Petrinja Photo: Anto Magzan/Pixsell

After five years of silence and inactivity a yet another mass grave has been dug up in Croatia. A mass grave found several days ago, in Taboriste near the town of Petrinja, was made public on Thursday March 15. Remains of 8 people, Croatian civilians, have been dug out near Petrinja’s rubbish dump site.

In the heat of the 1991 war in Croatia civilians were dragged out of their homes, murdered at the doorstep of their homes, wrapped in blankets, tied with rope, transported on trucks and buried deep in the ground. The criminals (Serbian aggressors) tried to cover up their deeds and deceive everyone so they covered the corpses with animal carcasses: human corpses mixed with slaughtered cows in nearby Gavrilovici, carcasses of cats and dogs thrown in the mix. 

Utter horror. Utter atrocity.

The air in Taboriste is heavy, the scene sickening to intolerable levels, Vecernji List article says.

Predrag Matic Fred, minister of Croatian War Veterans visited the mass grave site at Taboriste.

This is a hard story, one of the hardest in this job. We are standing at the 43rd mass grave in this region, and the work the professional teams, led by Grujic (Ivan Grujic, war veterans deputy minister) , is a humanitarian and civilization matter. Although Croatia is already recognized as a professional in this work, as we have more than 80% positive results in victim identification, we won’t rest until the last victim is found. We owe that to the victims and members of their families, whose lives during the past years have been anything but normal. We’re still searching for 1768 persons.”

In autumn 1991, the Petrinja area was captured by Serb forces and the Yugoslav National Army, which expelled the Croats from their homes, killing many of them. Until today, 45 mass graves had been found in the area around Petrinje. In August 1995, the Croatian army retook the territory in operation Storm, and most of the Serbs fled the territory.

The mass grave in Taboriste is the 145th mass grave found in Croatia since the end of the war of independence in 1995.

4,683 people have been exhumed from both individual and mass graves, of which 3,262 people have been identified.

Having visited the Taboriste mass grave site, Croatian Army Lieutenant Colonel Ivica Pandza Orkan said: “After this discovery we expect that someone will answer for these crimes. 1600 people were murdered in this area, 14 children among these victims. Dario Juric was two and a half and his brother Tomislav four years old.”

Away from this mass grave site in Taboriste there are still around 15,000 missing persons from Croatia, who “disappeared from the face of the earth” during the war.

It is frustrating and angering that Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, when referring to relations with Serbia, does not demand more forcefully Serbia’s cooperation in assisting with the location and identification of graves left in Croatia by thousands of Serbs who fled Croatia in 1995 and ended up in Serbia. A better cooperation from Serbia would mean a quicker resolution and closure on the matter of missing persons – and above all justice. Getting the information from Serbs on yet uncovered mass graves would also benefit the Croatian evidence against Serbia in the court case of genocide Croatia lodged against Serbia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On March 16 he told the weekly NIN: “relations between Serbia and Croatia were better now than they had been a few years ago, and the likely political consequences to their mutual genocide lawsuits had been exaggerated”.

The public, and therefore the political scene, in both countries is very sensitive when it comes to this issue. At the same time, the effects of the lawsuits might be overestimated as far as what is believed the suits can achieve …

Josipovic said numerous open issues remained. “These are serious problems, but with what we have accomplished in our relations so far, we have created a good foundation to start talking very openly about these problems, and to finally start solving them, one by one,” he said.

Diverting the issue of fully resolving the question and facts of genocide committed by Serbs during the 1990’s war to political gains or losses, and considering the withdrawal of Croatia’s claim against Serbia at ICJ will only benefit Serbia and not Croatia. Josipovic should not be nebulising, speaking vaguely about Serb war crimes in Croatia, almost turning them into dust-specks that can be easily bypassed or blown away with political rhetoric,  referring to many as “problems” or “serious problems”.

He, and the Croatian government, should be naming clearly and precisely these crimes; advocating strongly without holding back for Serbia to come clean and hand over all the records it holds of unsolved war crimes. Otherwise how will full justice be served, how will the aggressor be justly punished and answer for its crimes. In the EU circles Croatia should employ unwavering pressure to be placed upon Serbia to reveal the destiny of murdered thousands of people still missing from 1991/92. Otherwise, the desired goal of good relations between the people of Croatia and Serbia will most likely never be achieved. And, Serbia will slip quietly into EU membership without having to account for its part in the full range of genocidal operations against Croatian people.

One cannot but feel that the Croatian President and Government are walking on eggshells when it comes to addressing war crimes committed by Serbs in Croatia. Almost as if they don’t want to make any waves that would obstruct the building of amicable relations between Croatia and Serbia that European Union expects. For crying out loud – there should be no walking on eggshells when it comes to the pursuit of justice for the victims.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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