Safija Hrinić är lättad över att hon har fått veta vad som hände min sina anhöriga efter kriget.

Safija Hrinić

Photo: Sida

The right to know - assembling the puzzle of the truth

Updated: 26 February 2016

In Bosnia-Herzegovina families are still waiting to find out what really happened to their relatives during the civil war over 20 years ago. Sida supports the organization ICMP, which was created to locate and identify the almost 40,000 people who disappeared during the conflict.

Her voice breaks when she talks about what happened to her husband, and how difficult it is to get answers from the authorities. The story could come from Colombia, Rwanda, Syria, or any of the world's conflict-affected countries.  The woman who shares her story with others in the same situation sits in an anonymous conference room in a hotel in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The stories are in stark contrast to the impersonal luxury of the newly built hotel. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been at peace for twenty years, but the wounds are still open following the brutal conflict, which claimed 100,000 lives and drove 2 million people to flee between 1991 and 1995.

Safija Hrinić is chairperson of one of the associations for families supported by ICMP, the International Commission for Missing Persons. The idea is that they should learn how to file complaints, fight for their right to information and to compensation.  Even in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where everyone is literate, it feels as though the challenges of incomprehension, or rather unwilling government officials, are sometimes superhuman tasks. The formal errors line up and no one seems to want to help a widow to get what she is entitled to. Safija Hrinić is nevertheless one of the lucky ones because she got an answer.

"I am pleased that the search is over. People who have not experienced this cannot understand the feeling. It's a mixture of happiness and sorrow. My heart is filled with joy but at the same time the pain oozes in," says Safija.

She is not alone, but nationalist conflicts between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs still prevent cooperation. The fight for information, compensation and fair trials could be handled more efficiently if ethnic identity could be put aside.

"We have all lost someone, if we could team up against the State we could accomplish something. But we always end up in a discussion about where institutions and laboratories should lie, in the Bosnian Serb part, the Republika Srpska or in the Federation. As if that matters!"

Over 70% of the 40,000 people who were counted as missing after the conflict in the Western Balkans have been identified. No other conflict area has reached such a high proportion of identifications after a conflict. This is because ICMP has worked hard to build up knowledge in the country, assist in excavations, and has developed a unique method to match the family's DNA to the remains.

In a cold, cold space adjacent to the Visoko's morgue, Beisa Talić carries out detective work. On the bench in front of her lie the remains of a 60 year old man. The name which was paired with the man must be wrong, a person with that name has already been found and buried. The risk of misidentification was greater in the first years after the conflict when using traditional methods, such as any identification documents, dental records and recognition of clothing.  It was only once DNA technology was used that identification became certain.

Beisa Talić has a tough job ahead, she has to bring together all of the information, assemble the puzzle correctly so that ICMP can contact the relatives to tell them that the wrong person was buried. This is a difficult message to convey, but for most people knowing is what is most important.

"It is easy to put yourself in the relative's shoes, I have had missing relatives myself. It makes my work meaningful," says Beisa. "I know how important it is to get to the bottom of it, be able to draw a line under it and move on."

The identification and excavation of remains continues in Visoko and elsewhere in the country, with the hope of being able to find and identify all those who are still missing since the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. 

Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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