State stagnates in finding the missing during the 90’s wars

On the occasion of 30 August – the International Day of the Dissapeared – the Centre for Civic Education (CCE) pays respect to all victims of enforced disappearance and reminds of the right of families to know the fate of their loved ones who are listed as missing. Respecting human rights includes establishing the truth about the destinies of thousands of people who disappeared during armed conflicts.

Almost three decades have passed since the armed conflicts in the former SFRY, in which Montenegro also played a role. Unfortunately, this period has passed without adequate confrontation with the legacy of mass human rights violations, resulting in increasing tension in society, a lack of reconciliation, and a growing mitrust in institutions.

According to the data of the Group for Missing Persons, a multilateral mechanism for regional cooperation within the Berlin Process for the Western Balkans, 11,364 persons are still listed as missing in the former Yugoslavia. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Montenegro, 51 people are still missing, with 39 being sought in Kosovo, nine in Bosnia and Herzegovina and three in Croatia. This number has not changed in the past year, meaning there has been no progress in improving the mechanisms that could lead to the finding of these missing persons.

The past inefficiency in searching for missing persons reflects a lack of political will to prioritize this issue, which which has consequences in the general lack of public awareness. In support of this claim is the data that the CCE received as part of the research published in the publication “Transitional justice through the eyes of the citizens of Montenegro”, showing that around 70% of respondents do not know how to estimate the number of Montenegrin citizens who are still missing from the 1990s wars, with only 13% having approximate knowledge, stating that there are over 60 persons.

In order to adequately address the issue of the missing, it is necessary to urgently take several key actions. This includes intensifying efforts to establish facts about all victims and identify all gravesites and places of suffering in the territory of each of the countries, granting the status of civilian victims of war to family members of those who disappeared during armed conflicts in the former SFRY, passing a law on the missing, improving the existing legislative framework to engance the status of families of missing persons, and criminalizing enforced disappearance as a separate criminal offence.

CCE calls on the Government of Montenegro and competent institutions to actively commit to effectively solving the issue of missing persons, explicitly aiming to preserve lasting peace and promote cooperation and reconciliation. The state has the responsibility to actively investigate the fates of the missing, provide effective mechanisms for searching and identifying moral remains, and ensure that those responsible for the disappearance are brought to justice. This is not only a human obligation towards victims and their families, but also a crucial step towards building trust in society, preventing future conflicts and creating the foundation for lasting reconciliation.

The International Day of the Disappeared was established on 30 August 1981, with the aim to remind us of the right of families to know the destiny of their loved ones who are listed as missing.

Tamara Milaš, Human Rights Programme Coordinator