Handbook on Reporting on Missing Persons in Bosnia Introduced

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The handbook ‘Media Reporting on Persons Missing Due to Conflicts in BiH 1992–1995’ was promoted at the Political Sciences Faculty of Sarajevo University.

Photo: BIRN BiH

Standards on reporting on missing persons, which have been established in Bosnia and Herzegovina, may be applied worldwide, said participants in the promotion of “Media Reporting on Persons Missing Due to Conflicts in BiH 1992–1995” Handbook held at the Faculty of Political Sciences of Sarajevo University.

The Handbook on reporting on persons who went missing during the 1992-5 war is a result of cooperation between the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina, INO BiH, the State Prosecution, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network of Bosnia and Herzegovina, BIRN BiH, as well as women and men journalists from all over the country.

The document, as said during its promotion, is intended to assist all journalists in their work: as an incentive for editors and directors of media outlets to bring these topics back to prime time; as a reminder for professors to offer their students practical examples in addition to theoretical lectures; and also for all students and future reporters and journalists.

It is also intended for victims’ families, so they would know what to expect and what obligations the media has, but also for all others willing to learn more about the missing and how the media covers this topic.

Elmir Camic, Head of the ICRC Delegation to Bosnia, said the Handbook was a very high-quality document, which had met a wide response among his colleagues in the Red Cross all over the world, because the question of the missing also concerns areas of the Middle East, Ukraine, Central Asia and South America.

“I am glad that in BiH we are creating new standards that will be applied worldwide in the process of tracing the missing persons,” Camic said.

He recalled that around 7,600 persons, who disappeared due to the conflict are still being searched for in Bosnia, and that the lack of new and credible information on locations of individual and mass graves poses the biggest obstacle to the search process.

“A very high degree of politicization of the issue contributes to that, setting aside the needs and rights of families of the missing persons and coming down to a cheap accumulation of political points at their expense,” said the Head of the ICRC Delegation to Bosnia.

BIRN BiH executive Director Denis Dzidic expressed satisfaction at the fact that his fellow workers, who had been reporting on the missing as one of the segments of transitional justice for years, had a chance to draw up the Handbook to serve as a road map not only to journalists in our country, but also worldwide.

“Last week, a Detektor and Balkan Investigative Reporting Network team went to Ukraine, where we trained a group of journalists on how to report on transitional justice processes and we had a chance to introduce this same Handbook to them. There is a huge interest because journalists around the world lack the experience which Bosnian journalists have in reporting on this topic,” Dzidic said.

INO BiH spokeswoman Emza Fazlic said the Handbook was a leap forward when it comes to reporting on missing persons due to the sensitivity of the topic and its importance in society.

“Regardless of the passage of time and the fact that the families are searching for their missing members for 30 years, many stories have already been told, but, unfortunately, many still remain to be told. Only by covering this topic in the media will the process be accelerated in a certain way,” Fazlic said.

She added that the issue of missing persons falls also within the 14 priorities set for Bosnia on its road to joining the European Union.

Lejla Turcilo, a professor at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Sciences, also expressed satisfaction that such content could be included in faculty curricula, because it was important to develop responsibility and sensitivity for reporting at the Department of Communication Studies / Journalism, and for journalists to begin their journalistic practice as prepared as possible.

“The Faculty of Political Sciences of the Sarajevo University truly seeks to enrich with practical experience what we teach our students in theory, and this is a good opportunity for our male and female students to hear and get first-hand material from which they will learn on how to report on this important but also very sensitive topic,” Turcilo explained.

During the promotion of the Handbook, which she developed jointly with her fellow worker Lamija Grebo, BIRN BiH journalist Emina Dizdarevic Tahmiscija said the objectives were primarily to save stories from oblivion, but also to leave a trace so those who once lived and were now considered missing could be talked about.

“With this Handbook, we can significantly impact the conscience of people who potentially know the locations of mass graves, so they would reveal their whereabouts. Likewise, it will help journalists achieve communication with families of the missing,” Dizdarevic Tahmiscija said.

As part of the promotion, an expert panel was held on the importance of reporting on missing persons in Bosnia, at which participants presented information on problems and shortcomings facing INO BiH staff members, challenges facing journalists and the fact that a high percentage of families of the missing have expressed dissatisfaction with the reporting on these issues.

The Handbook is available here.