23 April 2005
Persons unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence in the Balkans
Recommendation 1685 (2004)
Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 924th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (20 April 2005)
1. The Committee of Ministers associates itself with the Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1414 (2004) in recognising that the problem of persons unaccounted for as a result of armed conflicts or internal violence in the Balkans remains a serious obstacle to peace and reconciliation in the region. It shares the view that this humanitarian issue should be depoliticised and be given priority by all authorities without discriminating among ethnic groups, as it leaves a difficult legacy of human rights abuses to be resolved.
2. In this respect, it should be recalled that the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights (Article 2) protects the right to life of those who went missing, and the right of the families of missing persons to know about the persons’ fates. This being said, the Council of Europe has no specific competence or expertise regarding the search for missing persons. This is an area where institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross are particularly qualified.
3. In recent years, progress has been achieved on the regional level, through the active involvement of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), based in Sarajevo, whose efforts to ensure cooperation of governments and other authorities in locating and identifying missing persons has led to the resolution of a considerable number of cases. However, the total approximate figure of persons who have disappeared as a result of armed conflicts or internal violence in the Balkans still exceeds 25,000.
4. The work of the ICMP illustrates, besides scientific expertise as an infallible tool for identification, the need to develop cooperation agreements and partnerships not only at intergovernmental level, but also with civil society structures, and in particular with the associations of families of missing persons.
5. As far as the situation of Kosovo is concerned, following Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1414 (2004) and the visit of the Commissioner for Human Rights in 2002 (whose report is contained in document CommDH(2002)11), and the keen interest he had taken in the plight of the families of missing persons, a request was made to the Committee of Ministers for voluntary contributions to assist the newly created Office on Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF), responsible for managing the missing persons’ operation, as well as to assist the Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO).
6. The OMPF is still operating under great time pressure and with insufficient means, as it is responsible for investigation, exhumation, autopsy, identification, outreach and assistance to families, handover and re-burial, death certificates and possibly, transfers between Serbia and Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro).
7. After the events in March 2004, any form of dialogue on the issue of missing persons between Belgrade and Pristina had come to a standstill.
8. The resumption on 16 March 2005 of the dialogue under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) between Belgrade and Pristina on the issue of over 3,000 missing persons, is a very encouraging development.
9. In response to the Assembly’s Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers:
a. encourages the outstanding work carried out at the regional level by the International Commission on Missing Persons and welcomes the cooperation agreements between countries in the region aiming at resolving the case of missing persons;
b. encourages the resumption of dialogue on missing persons under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in searching for the effective resolution of the problem of the missing persons in Kosovo;
c. encourages the implementation of the requests for full respect of the human rights of the families of the missing persons in accordance with paragraphs 10 and 13 of Resolution 1414 (2004) and, in particular, welcomes the Assembly’s call on the Council of Europe Development Bank to positively consider the financing of possible project requests in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro in favour of the families of missing persons;
d. launches an appeal for support to the organisations and institutions involved in solving the problem of missing persons in the Balkans, including the UNMIK’s Office on Missing Persons and Forensics.