Families of missing persons lose their lawsuits in Strasbourg

4. November 2014.00:00
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has not accepted the lawsuits brought by families of missing persons who wanted to sue Bosnia and Herzegovina for failing to find their family members and failing to prosecute those who are responsible.

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The Court in Strasbourg ruled that the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina still conducts many activities related to finding of missing persons and the prosecution of those responsible in Prijedor and Sarajevo.

Families of the missing persons were disappointed by the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, emphasising that it was their only hope in order to accelerate efforts to find the missing persons, punishing those who are responsible and paying the damages.

Lawyers who represented families of the missing persons in Strasbourg believe that the Court will not accept other lawsuits which are currently in this Court.

All actions taken

This year, the Court in Strasbourg was deciding on the number of lawsuits of families of missing persons during the war in the areas of Prijedor and Sarajevo. It is concluded in the decisions that until 2005, Bosnia and Herzegovina did not have the mechanisms for the prosecution of war crimes.

“It came to its jurisdiction only in 2005, which resulted in the adoption of the Strategy for Resolving of War Crimes Cases at the state level. It was found out that the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina established institutions for searching of missing persons and adopted the Law on Missing Persons,” explains Zikreta Ibrahimovic, deputy representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Court of Human Rights.

In one of the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights it is stated that “there was no significant period of inactivity of the local authorities after 2005 in respect of crimes committed in the context of ethnic cleansing in the Prijedor area.”

“In April 2006, The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) decided to forward to the State Court one such case against four indictees. The trial at the State Court began on December 20, 2006, and by February 2009, all of them were convicted by second instance verdicts,” it is said in the decision of the European Court.

Also, it is stated in the decision that “the local authorities have taken measures to prosecute in other cases related to ethnic cleansing in area of Prijedor within the deadlines set out in the National Strategy for War Crimes.”

Explaining this decision, Ibrahimovic says the European Court concluded that Bosnia and Herzegovina established institutions that dealt with finding missing persons, and that the families of the missing persons “were enabled through various forms of social welfare to receive certain indemnities.”

“So, all these segments to which families of the missing persons appealed have been tested before the European Court. There, the Court also found that it was actually in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, albeit not always enough but still in the satisfactory manner, answered to this problem by conducting many activities,” said Ibrahimovic.

Despite this, families of missing persons did not found the remains of their loved ones nor were those who are responsible for their disappearance brought to justice, although it has been almost 20 years since the war ended.
Because of these reasons, families of the missing persons were filing lawsuits before the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although in many cases this court accepted the lawsuits of the families and ordered authorities to submit all information about missing persons and enable the functioning of all institutions related to the searching, many decisions have not been executed.

Therefore, families have begun to file lawsuits before the European Court in Strasbourg, hoping that the Court will take into account their appeals and order the state to accelerate the discovery of missing persons and punish those who are responsible.

The defeat of international law

Edin Ramulic is one of the citizens of Prijedor who lost his lawsuit before the European Court. He sued the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina for not finding his brother, who was taken from Omarska camp during the war and killed.

Commenting on the decision of the Court in Strasbourg, Ramulic says that after years of failure in the search for missing persons, the families does not believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina is doing enough to find their loved ones.

“The explanation that the institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina have done enough or that they are doing enough efforts in finding missing persons is something that cannot be justified by someone who has not found their loved ones. Because, the fact is that our loved ones have not yet been found,” says Ramulic, adding that he believes that this decision is “the defeat of international law.”

Ramulic also notes that the state did pass the Law on Missing Persons, but that generally, it is not applied.

“We know very well that many things are done just in the way that the state can defend itself against these lawsuits, such as the adoption of the Law on Missing Persons which is almost not applied in any of its provisions. Nothing from this law is not applied and done, so it is a dead letter on paper but it can be used as an argument in international activities,” says Ramulic.

The Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s representative before the European Court say that they do not know the exact number of lawsuits that have been filed by the families of missing persons before this court.

Lawyer Damir Alagic, who represented one lawsuit before the European Court which was related to a disappearance in the area of Sarajevo, considers that this Court could reach the same decisions in the future verdicts.

“When the Court in Strasbourg reaches the verdict, it is related to all verdicts that have the same base and the same factual situation. There is no need for further verdicts in other cases if we have the same facts, the same events… I think that the European Court of Human Rights will completely follow the verdicts that they already brought,” says Alagic.

The relatives of the missing persons say they no longer believe that they will achieve their rights before the Court in Strasbourg, and that now, it only remains for them to wait for the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina to find their loved ones and prosecute those who are responsible.

Selma Učanbarlić

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