Ahmetaj: The families of the missing should be guaranteed the right to know through all domestic and international legal remedies

FOTO: Nora Ahmetaj/FB stranica

Speaking with Kosovo, transitional justice expert Nora Ahmetaj welcomed the recent adoption of a joint declaration on the missing between Belgrade and Pristina, saying that: „It is necessary to guarantee their families the right to know, which is guaranteed by all domestic and international legal remedies, i.e. laws.”

Last month in Ohrid, the Serbian president confirmed once again that in August, Serbia did not sign the already-prepared declaration on the missing because of the unacceptable term „enforced disappearances“ for Serbia.

However, on Tuesday, Belgrade and Pristina’s chief negotiatorsagreed on text of the declarations onmissing persons, which Vucic and Kurti will officially adopt at the next meeting, which is speculated to be held at the end of the month.

The term „enforced disappearance“ is used in this document, and the main negotiator from the Serbian side, Petar Petkovic, said that until the meeting at a high political level, both Belgrade and Pristina will continue to consider the terminology.

Petkovic also explained that although the terms „forcefully disappeared“ and „enforced disappearance“ contain words of the same/similar meaning, the first term was accepted, because it is not, as he explained, a „legal category“ according to the Convention on Disappearances.

Legal expert, Dragutin Nenezić – claims otherwise.

He claims that the word „forcefully disappeared“ implies legal consequences, because this term is used in theory when it should be indicated that persons disappeared under duress.

„In the convention, only ‘enforced disappearance’ is really used, but in theory, for the same thing, only when it denotes persons, not action, is used ‘forcibly disappeared’. Therefore, it is about the same thing, despite the attempt to hide behind an apparently different term,“ Nenezić said on Twitter.

Transitional justice expert Nora Ahmetaj from Pristina also believes that Belgrade is trying to avoid responsibility in the future, while also emphasizing that people did not disappear on a whim.

„He (Vucic) said for the first time that he will not recognize the paper that was changed, alluding to the fact that the Kosovo side advocated for the term ‘enforced disappearance’.“ Vucic said clearly and loudly – „we will not be responsible in the future,“ she noted.

On the other hand, Ahmetaj clarifies that the use of „enforced missing“ means that it is about missing persons during the war.

The issue of missing persons is primarily a humanitarian issue and a question of justice, she emphasized.

„The fact is that someone forcibly abducted them, sent them to an unknown place, that they were abused… Therefore, it is very much a humanitarian issue and leaders should not skirt around it,“ Ahmetaj told KoSSev.

Ahmetaj went on to elaborate that while it is first and foremost a humanitarian question, past experience has demonstrated that the issue of missing persons during wars tends to be addressed through political means, where it subsequently becomes „stuck“, as is indeed the case after the war in Kosovo in 1999.

Twenty-four years after the armed conflict, and a further 25 to 26 after the first skirmishes between members of the KLA and Serbian forces, around 1,620 people are still missing.

According to the findings of the Humanitarian Law Fund (HHL) as part of the „Kosovo Book of Remembrance“ project, from the 1st of January 1998 to 31st of December 2000, 10,093 civilians lost their lives and/or disappeared in Kosovo, of which 8,645 were Albanians, 1,013 Serbs, 262 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, 84 Bosniaks and 203 persons of other nationalities.

So far, around 6,500 thousand missing persons, or their remains, have been identified as resulting from the war in Kosovo, according to the HLC.

The Global Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance has been signed or ratified by a total of 71 countries, including Serbia in 2011. It was later adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 andentered into force in 2010.

Ahmetaj points out that the declaration explains that the issue of missing persons is a very political issue because the warring parties often manipulate the number of missing persons or deliberately withhold information about their whereabouts to put pressure on the opposing party, terrorize and control the population, or weaken detainees as part of an interrogation technique.

Ahmetaj notes something else when it comes to the issue of responsibility for forcibly disappeared persons – a possible situation in which neither Belgrade nor Pristina would be able to accuse each other because the conflict in Kosovo happened before the declaration was passed by the General Assembly.

However, she avoided making a statement regarding this issue, since she is not, as she says, a legal expert, and leaves it to the parties to interpret.

„What I want to emphasize is that the victims need justice, and that both they and their families are guaranteed the right to justice, and the families also have the right to know who committed the crime.“ For justice to come to its place“, stated Ahmetaj.

Their families need to be guaranteed the right to know, by all domestic and international legal remedies, i.e. laws

Ahmetaj pointed out that in the Declaration on Missing Persons, it is stated that“restoring family ties is the most important to determine the difference between distinguishing between natural and forced disappearances.“

„How it will all be resolved, I honestly don’t know.But since point one of the Agreement is the most sensitive, I believe that the parties have already found a modus vivendi on both sides,“ Ahmetaj said in a statement for KoSSev.

In addition to the fact that additional injustice is still being done to the missing persons, in that their families are being denied the truth and burial of the remains in a dignified manner, the issue of missing persons remains one of the key ones that burdens the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Neither of the parties involved are willing to acknowledge victims on the other wise.

The problems with missing persons are numerous, and some of them were noted by the HLC in its last year’s report:

„Hiding bodies, partial opening of archives, incorrect identification of bodies immediately after the conflict and over 300 remains in the morgue in Pristina, are the biggest challenges in the process of discovering the fate of missing persons“.

They state that opening the archives would solve many cases.

„The governments of Kosovo and Serbia must provide full access to their state archives. This access should be made available to working groups of both countries, mediators, and institutions responsible for discovering the fate of missing persons“, is one of the recommendations presented in the report.

However, as they also state, despite the rhetoric of cooperation, it seems that „none of that will happen anytime soon“, they stated in this report in the Fund for Humanitarian Law.

„Because Serbia classified some documents from its military archives as state secrets, while Kosovo insists that the KLA, as a guerrilla organization, never had military archives.“

Preuzimanje i objavljivanje tekstova sa portala KoSSev nije dozvoljeno bez navođenja izvora. Hvala na poštovanju etike novinarske profesije.