Bosnia-Herzegovina : Time to end impunity for 'disappearances'

It is estimated that over 17,000 persons remain unaccounted for after the end of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina seven years ago. Many of these people 'disappeared' after having last been sighted in the hands of the various armed forces, and are now presumed dead.

Tremendous progress has been made in recovering the remains of the missing through the process of exhumations and identification; indeed Bosnia-Herzegovina now boasts one of the most sophisticated DNA analysis systems in the world.

'The Bosnian authorities on all levels must introduce new legislation now, which will criminalise all acts of 'disappearances' so that these violations can finally be prosecuted,' Amnesty International said, adding that the current revision of criminal legislation provides an ideal opportunity for such measures.

The time has come to honour the victims of 'disappearances' by investigating and prosecuting those responsible and by awarding compensation to relatives and dependants left behind, who are still unable to rebuild their lives.

In addition the public at large must be told the true story of these violations, which continue to haunt and divide society, as part of the comprehensive process of reconciliation and healing.

Amnesty International reiterated its calls to the international community, in particular the recently deployed European Union Police Mission (EUPM), to take its stated commitment to human rights seriously and encourage and supervise police investigations into 'disappearances' in order to provide a sound basis for effective and impartial prosecutions.

Should such steps not be taken immediately, then Amnesty International fears that even the few achievements so far may not be sustained in the long run. The handful of cases where investigations have been launched into cases of 'disappearances' are primarily due to the persistence of relatives and friends of the victims, and the professionalism and courage of some police and judicial investigators.

'These examples clearly demonstrate the need for long-term monitoring and support by committed and qualified human rights monitors in the international community. If they are further undermined, there is no hope for the many outstanding cases,' the organisation said.

'It is imperative that the Bosnian authorities on all levels as well as the international community devise and implement a comprehensive strategy for dealing with this violation.' Aside from awarding long-overdue justice to all victims, prosecuting the perpetrators of concrete cases of 'disappearances' will be the real litmus test for the comprehensive, lengthy and costly process of reform of the Bosnian judiciary and law enforcement agencies. These reforms have been of the highest priority for the international community over the past few years, particularly in view of the envisaged closure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 2008.

'A criminal justice system must be capable of providing redress for human rights violations - including 'disappearances',' Amnesty International said.

'Otherwise, however modernised and expensively revamped its regulations and structure may be, for the human beings whose rights have been wronged it will only represent a triumph of form over substance.'

The full report is available online.

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