(L-R) President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic, EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak, EU High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell and Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti convene a High-level meeting of the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue in the European external Action Service building in Brussels, Belgium, 02 May 2023. Photo:EPA-EFE/OLIVIER MATTHYS

Kosovo, Serbia Endorse Declaration on Missing Persons

Both countries signed the declaration, having agreed about its text in April, after a long dispute over the use of specific wording.

The EU-mediated high-level meeting between Kosovo PM Albin Kurti and Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, in Brussels on Tuesday, resulted in the endorsement of the parties for the Declaration on Missing Persons.

They “reaffirmed the importance of resolving the fate of the remaining Missing Persons, to bring closure to the suffering of their loved ones and to foster lasting reconciliation and peace,” the High Representative of the EU, Josep Borrell, said, after the meeting. 

“Both Parties have recognised the issue of Missing Persons as a humanitarian one, and noted the urgent need for additional joint efforts to alleviate the situation of the affected families and the wider community,“ he added. 

Borrell added that the EU “welcomes the Parties’ endorsement of the declaration and expects that the Parties make tangible progress on bringing to a closure the outstanding cases of Missing Persons and on fulfilling their respective obligations towards the families”.

Of the 6,065 cases of persons who went missing in the period 1 January 1998 to 31 December 2000, 1,621 remain unresolved, the EU High Representative noted. 

“We hope today’s agreed Declaration in Brussels will pave the way for the acknowledgement of these crimes and for justice,” Kosovo’s President, Vjosa Osmani, said after the meeting. 

Kosovo and Serbia previously agreed on the majority of the wording of the declaration, but specific words became deal-breakers. 

Kosovo insisted on having the wording “forcibly disappeared persons” in the declaration, while Serbia insisted on “disappeared persons” only.

The official version of the Declaration uses the term “disappeared persons”, but noted that the understanding of the definition follows the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, understanding of missing persons, which includes “persons forcibly disappeared”.

Ahead of the meeting, Kurti had a phone call with the US State Department advisor, Derek Chollet. Chollet wrote that he had a productive conversation with Kurti among others about “the importance of implementing the Association for Serb-majority Municipalities immediately, and strong U.S-Kosovo partnership.”

Excavation work at a mass grave in Kizevak, Serbia that was discovered in 2020. Photo: BIRN/Marko Risovic

‘Disappeared persons’ or ‘persons disappeared by force’ 

“[…] we insist on highlighting that [the disappearances] happened by force, was done using violence, because they were not people that disappeared as a cause of natural disasters,” Kurti said in a conference on July, 2022. 

Bekim Blakaj, from the Fund for Humanitarian Rights in Kosovo, clarified for RFE in August 2022 that, in professional literature, the terms “persons disappeared by force” and “disappeared persons” are clearly defined.

According to him, “persons disappeared by force” means persons kidnapped at a certain moment, in a certain place, by representatives of state security agencies, be they the police, the army or the intelligence service.

Meanwhile, “disappeared persons”, explains Blakaj, are persons whose fate is unknown, but the possibility that they too have disappeared by violence, or in other forms, including natural disasters, is not excluded.

According to Blakaj, the insistence of both parties on different terms reveals “their approach from a political prism”.

“It is clear that the Serbian President, Vucic, wants to avoid this notion, this definition [persons disappeared by force], because he wants, perhaps, to remove the responsibility from the Serbian state, from the agencies of the Serbian state,” said Blakaj.

More than 23 years after the end of the Kosovo war, there are fears that witnesses may die and information about the whereabouts of the missing is scarce.

The government of Kosovo says that in order to arrive faster at the identification of possible mass graves, access is needed to the military archives of Serbia. Serbia has so far refused to provide such access, but according to the new Declaration it will have to do so. 

03/05/2023 - 14:27

03 May 2023 - 14:27

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