27 April 2023
On Kosovo’s National Day of Missing Persons, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) reaffirms its commitment and obligation to support the fulfillment of the right of the families of the 1,621 missing persons to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones. To do so, EULEX and the NGO Missing Persons Resource Center (MPRC) are organizing a series of information sessions across Kosovo with family members of missing persons from the Kosovo war and its aftermath.
These MPRC-facilitated sessions serve as a platform for the relatives of missing persons and EULEX experts to openly discuss the Mission’s past and present mandate, the work of different forensic experts, the main challenges encountered by forensic experts in the search for the missing, and the support EULEX provides to its local counterparts at the Institute of Forensic Medicine (IFM) in finding, identifying, and handing over the remains of missing persons to their families.
"Families need to know the truth and no one has the right to deny it to them. This is the opportunity for the families to get some answers," said Bajram Qerkinaj, MPRC’s Executive Director, whereas Negovan Mavrić, MPRC’s Deputy Director stressed: "The issue of missing persons is a humanitarian issue and must be exclusively treated as such. The families of the missing must be treated with honesty, dignity and respect."
Highlighting the right of the missing person’s families to know the truth, EULEX’s Human Rights Advisor, Valentina Vitali, noted that the families of missing persons are entitled to seek information from the relevant institutions about their cases, adding that these institutions have the obligation to provide information provided that this does not compromise the investigation.
IFM’s Deputy Director and EULEX forensic archeologist, Javier Santana, elaborated on the challenges encountered by forensic experts in the process of establishing the fate of Kosovo’s missing persons: (a) the fact that a considerable number of missing persons was buried in small, clandestine graves, or even in cemeteries by the perpetrators to make the search for missing people more difficult and to hide evidence of these crimes (b) the lack of new and credible information on the location of graves (c) the fact that not all missing persons’ families have given blood samples for DNA analysis, making it harder for experts to identify remains, and (d) the issue of misidentifications. In the aftermath of the war, bodies were identified in a summary way, for example through pictures or clothes, resulting in mistakes which are difficult to trace and rectify today.
EULEX’s Forensic Anthropologist, Luísa Marinho, said that since the beginning of its mandate, EULEX experts have conducted 725 field operations and 197 exhumations, which have resulted in the identification of 332 missing persons. “These figures don’t mean much to those who have not found their loved ones yet. However, they indicate the work done so far and are indicative of our commitment to continuing this work so that we provide some answers to the families of missing persons,” concluded Marinho.
To empathize with the pain and darkness in which the relatives of 1,621 missing persons are living for more than 23 years now, EULEX will join the initiative of several Kosovo NGOs and will turn off the lights at its headquarters at 20:30 this evening for five minutes.