Djuric: Resolving the missing persons issue means revealing hitherto unknown crimes

Foto: Medija Centar

The fact that the dialogue has been renewed with the topic of the missing persons is encouraging, however, the implementation of a possible agreement would require courageous moves and political will, the program director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, Ivan Djuric told KoSSev.

Belgrade and Pristina resumed the dialogue on normalization of relations on Thursday. This process began in 2011 but stalled in November 2018. Although it seems that the details of the part of the agreement related to the topics discussed on Thursday will be determined in the coming period by expert teams, the Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic presented certain hints on what the agreement could include – such as Serbia showing political will to resolve the issue of missing persons, reflected in the excavation of places suspected of being mass grave sites and the involvement of the International Red Cross in resolving the issue of missing persons.

The issue of missing persons is a key topic for reconciliation and it is encouraging that the dialogue resumed with it, Djuric said.

„It can be an indicator of a sincere and thorough commitment to dialogue and the improvement of relations, provided that the fate of missing persons is discovered efficiently and without reservations,“ he said.

Speaking about the possible role of the Red Cross in this process, Djuric argued that it could primarily be a mediatory role, but in the case of possible exhumations and identification of victims an expert role as well.

„The investigations include key data and information from armed formations. The Red Cross can be involved as a mediator, perhaps as a channel of communication between the two governments, and later lead the exhumation and identification process – but the investigation process itself must be led by Serbia and Kosovo. The good news is that a mediator has been found in whom both sides have confidence. This can contribute to the efficiency of the whole process.“

He also emphasized that discovering the fate of the missing and potential graves means shedding light on crimes that have been hitherto unknown, describing it as a brave move that can only be drawn by the political leaders of Serbia and Kosovo.

Humanitarian Law Center: Missing Persons Data

According to the HLC, since the arrival of the international forces (KFOR) in Kosovo on June 12th, 1999, until December 31st, 2000, at least 932 non-Albanians have disappeared under unexplained circumstances. According to these data, the abductions and disappearances of Serbs, Roma, Montenegrins and Bosniaks took place every day in the period from June 12th to September 1st, 1999. In this period, according to the HLC, 835 non-Albanians were abducted or disappeared. The fate of 593 persons still remains unresolved.

According to the HLC, from September 1st, 1999 to the end of December 2000, 97 non-Albanians went missing and the fate of 72 of them is still unknown.

In his Thursday address, the Serbian President Vucic did not explain what the political will to resolve the issue of the missing means. He, however, did say what the negotiators did not agree on – the Kosovo side’s request to open the police and military archives of Serbia.

Djuric emphasized that Serbian institutions are the ones that can have information on the location of mass graves in Serbia, especially having in mind the fact that those found so far were discovered on land owned by the Ministry of the Interior.

„The answer to the question of where the mass graves on the territory of Serbia are located can only be given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is not a classic investigation in which the Ministry of the Interior is looking for unknown perpetrators. The MIA should find out where the same MIA hid bodies in mass graves 20 years ago. The mass graves discovered in Serbia so far – Batajnica, Petrovo Selo and Rudnica – are all located on police training grounds or land owned by the Ministry of the Interior. Those who led and participated in the operations of hiding bodies are employed in the Ministry of the Interior,“ claimed Djuric.

In addition to the necessary political will, Djuric also mentioned the existing institutions whose mandate is to investigate the fate of the missing, both in Serbia and in Kosovo.

„After the mass graves that are still in Serbia are found, after establishing the facts about the suspicions that the bodies were burned in the furnaces of factories in Kosovo and Serbia – I hope that the time will come when individuals will be held accountable for these heinous crimes. Crimes so monstrous that it is difficult to talk about them without getting a queasy stomach. That is in the mandate of the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, but also of the Prosecutor’s Office for War Crimes in Belgrade,“ he underlined.

Djuric said he believes the agreement could take place because of, in his words, a greater interest of the long-term mediator – the EU.

„The engagement of the European Union is also encouraging, which shows far greater interest, especially in economic issues, but also the willingness to invest – to commit in some way and take responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of the agreement – which has not been the case so far.“

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On the other hand, a research fellow at the Kosovo Center for Security Studies, Dan Ilazi believes that the process lacks focus on the “most difficult issue” – the recognition of Kosovo by Serbia: Ilazi: Brussels meeting was symbolic, more important for the EU than for Kosovo or Serbia

Marko Savkovic, program director of the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, expects an agreement, however, he believes the recognition is not realistic:  Savkovic: Little room for maneuver for Serbia to avoid an agreement; Recognition is not realistic

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