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Serbia and Kosovo: Day of the Missing

Serbia and Kosovo: Day of the Missing

Four years after the ending of the war in Kosovo, and the establishment of the UN interim Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Amnesty International is gravely concerned that more than 3,000 ethnic Albanians and an estimated 1,200, Serbs, Roma and other minorities are still unaccounted for and no one has yet been brought to justice. The organization notes the lack of progress that has been made by either the Serbian or UNMIK police to investigate outstanding "disappearances" of Albanians and abductions of Serbs, Roma and other minorities, despite ongoing exhumations of mass graves and other burial sites in Kosovo and Serbia.

Overall responsibility "for all aspects of investigations into missing persons" lies with the UNMIK Office for Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF), now located within the UNMIK Department of Justice. The OMPF's current priority is the exhumation and examination of grave sites, and the return of positively identified bodies to their families for burial (as well as the reburial of unidentified bodies). The organization welcomes the progress made by OMPF this year, and also the progress made in Serbia in exhuming mortal remains.

However, Amnesty International calls on both the UNMIK police and the Serbian police to address impunity of both ethnic Albanians and Serbs responsible for these "disappearances" and abductions. The organization welcomed the announcement on 20 May 2003 of the formation by UNMIK of a special police unit to investigate the unsolved murders committed in 1999/2000. In April, Amnesty International had recommended that a special unit be established by UNMIK police to investigate outstanding ethnically motivated murders and other serious crimes (including "disappearances" and abductions) and the organization will monitor how far the UNMIK initiative will meet its recommendation.

In the meantime, the climate of impunity in Kosovo continues, resulting from the reluctance of ethnic Albanians to provide information to police investigations, where the perpetrator is believed to be another ethnic Albanian. In part, this is due to the lack of a comprehensive witness and victim protection program, but is also constructed by a climate of fear. This fear of retribution has been exacerbated this year by the murders of two ethnic Albanian witnesses in a high-profile war crimes trial of ex-Kosovo Liberation Army members. No one has been brought to justice for these murders.

The human rights organization also urged the UNMIK and Serb authorities to recognize that "disappearance" or abduction is an ongoing violation of the rights of the relatives of the "disappeared" and abducted who continue to be obstructed or ignored by the authorities in their continuing search for the truth, and for justice and redress. The pain and suffering of thousands of relatives amounts to a violation of their right not to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

Amnesty International welcomes the signs of cooperation between the authorities of Serbia and UNMIK, in exhuming and transferring remains from Serbia to Kosovo. On 8 May 2003, the first group of remains identified by the ICMP using DNA analysis were handed over - at the administrative border between Serbia and Kosovo - to UNMIK by the Serbian Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Metohija. These were the mortal remains of 37 ethnic Albanians, whose bodies had been exhumed from the mass graves at Batajnica near Belgrade. The bodies were then taken by the OMPF for forensic examination, and were buried by the families on 1 August 2003, in their home village of Meja near Ðakovica.

Amnesty International also welcomes cooperation which is developing at a local level. On 19 April 2003 representatives of the Association of Families of Missing and Kidnapped Kosovo Serbs attended a meeting of the Kosova Assembly Commission for Missing and Kidnapped Persons at the invitation of Flora Brovina, Head of the Commission. Ranðel Nojkiæ, the Commission's deputy head and a member of the Serb Povratak coalition, stated: "For the first time ever, Kosovo Serbs and ethnic Albanians discussed this problem together."

Despite these promising signs, over four years after the end of the war in Kosovo, the war has almost been forgotten outside the region, and according to UNMIK statistics published on 15 August 2003, of 5,032 cases of people who were "disappeared" or abducted, just over 1,000 bodies have been returned to their families for burial.

Further information on the International Day of the "disappeared":

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