Amnesty urges Balkans to probe war disappearances
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Ljiljana Alvir is convinced Serbian authorities know how her brother died during the war in Croatia, and where his remains are. She just doubts they want to tell her.
"Serbian institutions have the information where he was killed, and where his bones lie," but they are hiding the truth, she said at a press conference Wednesday to mark the International Day of the Disappeared. "Everyone deserves to find where the bones of their loved ones lie."
Alvir, a Croat from Vukovar — who lost both her fiancé and brother during the Serb conquest of the city in 1991 — is one of the many people across the Balkans that Amnesty International says are still searching for news on the whereabouts of the some 14,000 people still missing since the end of the Balkan conflicts in 1990s.
Amnesty says most of the missing — more than 10,000 — are linked to the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia, about 2,400 disappeared during the 1991-95 war in Croatia, and another 1,800 during the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo.
The wars erupted when the former Yugoslavia broke up and its former republics and ethnic groups turned against each other. Croatia's decision in 1991 to declare independence triggered a war with the Serb-led Yugoslav army which overran the eastern parts of the country, including Vukovar. The town fell in November 1991, after months of siege and heavy battle reduced it to rubble. Hundreds of people were killed by Serb troops when they took control and thousands more disappeared, including Alvir's brother.
Amnesty and regional human rights organizations on Wednesday urged the states that emerged after the breakup — Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo — to investigate the fate of the disappeared. The states have all repeatedly pledged to resolve their fate, and thousands of people have since been unearthed from mass graves and identified.
Amnesty also called for those responsible to be punished, and charged that Balkan governments lack the political will to prosecute those responsible more than two decades after the wars started.
Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia deputy program director, said Wednesday that the lack of an investigation and prosecutions remains a serious concern. "The major obstacle is ... a persistent lack of political will in the countries in the region," he said.
Critics insist that the governments have been deliberately concealing full truth to avoid responsibility. The families of the missing on Wednesday urged the European Union to condition any progress in the accession process of the Balkan states with the question of the missing.
Tigani said their fate and whereabouts is "a daily source of pain for relatives" still waiting to learn. "People living in the Balkans have not closed the chapter of enforced disappearances ... For the families of the disappeared; having the body returned for burial is the first step towards achieving justice."
Saida Karabasic, whose father was killed by Bosnian Serb troops in the western town of Prijedor, said that those who have the power to resolve the fate of the missing and are not doing it "are accomplices in the crime."
"We do not see an end to our agony," she said.
The International Day of the Disappeared commemorates those worldwide who have gone missing in armed conflicts or other situations of violence, and remembers the plight of their families.
Amer Cohadzic in Bosnia contributed to this report.