The Never-Ending Mission: The Search for Missing Persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Hikmet Karčić

The border towns were attacked fi rst. Along the Drina River in April 1992, Serb Special Forces named “The Tigers” and “The White Eagles,” along with the regular Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), attacked the border towns of Zvornik, Bijelina and Višegrad. Bosniak intellectuals and elites were the fi rst to be targeted. Hundreds were executed in an organized fashion. Thousands were expelled from their homes and left to seek refuge in Bosnian Government-controlled areas. Thousands more were forced into concentration camps and detention facilities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Podrinje and Prijedor regions and Sarajevo were the epicenters of mass atrocities. For example, in the Podrinje region, a vast majority of the victims (94.83%) were Bosniaks – Muslims, and they comprised 30% of all Bosnian fatalities in the war.

Shocked by the mass atrocities, the Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina established a State Commission for the Exchange of War Prisoners. The aim of this Commission was to collect information and organize the exchange of prisoners of war. In addition to this Commission, there was also the Herceg-Bosna Commission for the Exchange of War Prisoners and the Republika Srpska Commission for the Exchange of War Prisoners. After some time, it became clear to the Bosnian government that most of the prisoners held by the Republika Srpska authorities were in fact civilians. These civilians were held in concentration camps and detention facilities throughout occupied parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Survivors witnessed bodies being dumped into mass graves. It became clear to the State Commission that many persons who were registered as prisoners or missing would probably never be exchanged.

As a result of the Dayton Peace Accords, new entities were drawn up along the former front-lines, forming the Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the exclusively Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. Thus, the searches for missing persons were also drawn up along the entity lines. In that period, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered the State Commission to be renamed as the State Commission for Missing Persons. After the Federation had been established, the Commission was again renamed as the Federal Commission for Missing Persons. This Commission consisted of teams from the previous State Commission and the Herceg-Bosna Commission for Missing Persons. At the same time, there was an active Republika Srpska Commission for Missing Persons.

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  1. Sluiter, A. (2016). Remembering the Bosnian genocide: justice, memory and denial. Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks.

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