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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Selling Information About Mass Graves

Forensic experts working at a mass grave in Budak, near Srebrenica (AFP) News reports about trafficking in information regarding the location of human remains from the 1992-95 conflict recently caused a stir in Bosnia-Herzegovina. RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on May 27, however, that the problem of exploiting the grief of victims' loved ones for profit is nothing new there.

Already from the first days and weeks of the conflict in 1992, individuals sought to obtain money by providing information about the locations of prisoners and detainees. Some people offered to arrange prisoner exchanges or releases in exchange for payment. The practice continued into the postwar era, when individuals from all three ethnic groups offered information about mass graves and other burial sites for profit. About 12,000 victims of the conflict remain unaccounted for.

Amor Masovic, who formerly headed the Commission on Missing Persons of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat Federation and remains a director of that institution, says that the individuals seeking to sell information also include people of the same nationality as those buried on the site in question. Some would-be sellers got their information second- or third-hand, but many have such detailed knowledge of the burial site that Masovic believes it is certain that they themselves must have been involved in the atrocity.

He noted that the sellers' demands vary greatly. Some seek only a few euros, while one man wanted 1 million euros ($1.55 million). Other requests involve issues other than money, such as help in getting a passport, visa, or political asylum abroad. One seller wanted roofing material for the house of a refugee who returned home.

Masovic pointed out that the commission does not have any budget or authority to make such payments or arrangements, although some of his staff have paid small sums out of their own per diem allowances to obtain information. Milan Bogdanic, who heads a similar commission in the Republika Srpska, noted that the courts have money to pay for information but added that sellers are reluctant to approach them for fear of eventually being prosecuted.

Bogdanic argued that few people in possession of information about mass graves or the remains of individuals are willing to tell what they know out of human decency, but want some form of compensation instead. The demands, he added, vary greatly.

Accordingly, Bogdanic believes it is necessary to establish regulations to set boundaries for payments for such information and involve government institutions in the process. He noted, however, that victims' families tend to reject that idea, presumably because they fear that regulating the sale of information would deter individuals from coming forward and telling what they know.

Seida Karabasic, who heads a group called Izvor (Source) dealing with missing persons from the Prijedor area, said that Izvor does not involve itself directly in the information trade. She nonetheless added that many families are willing to pay several hundred euros just to learn where their loved ones are buried and hence obtain closure.

Karabasic noted that the information offered usually proves accurate. The sellers are clearly from the area and can identify the victims by first and last names.

Prijedor was the site of the Keraterm, Omarska, and Trnopolje concentration camps. In the summer of 1992, footage from Omarska drew international attention to the ethnic-cleansing campaign of Bosnian Serb forces.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service correspondent Zana Kovacevic. Compiled by RFE/RL Regional Analyst Patrick Moore

RFE/RL Balkan Report

RFE/RL Balkan Report


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