The Bosnian Book of Dead

The Research and Documentation Centre (RDC) has since 2004 documented human losses during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 21 June 2007 they presented the results of their work.

 

Focus on the victims
After spending more than four years of collecting data and about the persons who were killed or are still missing after the war in the 1990s, RDC, lead by Mirsad Tokaca, presented last Thursday the results of their work. 97.207 profiles are registered and collected in a huge database called The Bosnian Book of Dead. For RDC the victims are the main focus – who they were, and how and when they were killed.

Minimum 97.207 killed during the war
Out of the 97.207 persons who are registered killed or missing during the war, 39.684 are civilians and 57.523 are military victims. RDC has based their information on official lists of military personnel when they have registered the victims. A certain amount of under-representation of civilian victims can therefore be found in the data, because some military personnel have lost their lives outside of combat and thus had status as civilians. Out of the civilian victims that RDC has registered, 33.070 are Bosniaks, 4.075 are Serbs, and 2.163 are Croats. RDC has only included person who lost their lives as a direct cause of war. People who died of indirect causes of the war, such as hunger or lack of medicines, are therefore not included in the database.

1992 – the most violent year
1992 stands out as the most violent year with a total of 45.110 killed, of whom 21.813 are civilians. Only in June this year, 10.546 persons were killed, 6.125 of these civilians.

The number of 97.207 killed and missing persons that is now documented is considerable lower that the first estimates presented after the war. Estimates between 200.000 and 300.000 have circulated for years, and different political camps have had a tendency to use numbers which they mean best promote their case.

Positive, independent evaluation of the research methods
Three independent experts have evaluated the method and work conducted by RDC, and they did also present the conclusions of their evaluation 21 June. Ewa Tabeau is a demographer and works currently at the ICTY in The Hague. Patrick Ball is a sociologist and the director of the Human Rights Programme at the Benetech Initiative in California. He has earlier been working with nine truth commissions throughout the world. Philip Verwimp is a statistics who has specialised on the war in Rwanda.

The three evaluators emphasised in their presentation that RDC has made an important and unique database. Those errors that occur, such as incomplete profiles of the victims, must not be seen as a database problem, but as a reporting problem. This, in addition to some duplications, can and will be corrected. The conclusion of the evaluators was that the degree of incompleteness and errors are on a low and acceptable level. The experts also underlined that the number of victims that has so far been documented is a minimum number. Patrick Ball, a member of the evaluation team, said that Tokaca’s database “is better than any I worked with so far. The project continues, but I do not expect the number to rise for more than 10.000 cases.” RDC will carry on the collection of information about the dead and missing, but the indications show that the database is close to completion.

Panel debate with Member of Presidency and Prime Minister
Member of the Presidency, Mr. Zeljko Komsic, and Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Nikola Spiric, attended the panel debate which followed the presentation. Also, Marko Prelec from the Office of the State Prosecutor, and professor Zdravko Grebo from the University of Sarajevo attended the panel, together with the three experts and Mirsad Tokaca. Nerma Jelacic from Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) was mediator at the conference. Spiric emphasised that RDC has focused on a humane approach to the victims, and that the database is not only numbers. Komsic drew attention to the problem of political manipulation of numbers, and urged Tokaca and his team to keep on going even though they are attacked by politicians.

Norwegian support
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since the establishment of the Research and Documentation Centre in 2004 been the centre's main supporter. Other important donors of RDC are the United Kingdom and Switzerland. The Norwegian Ambassador Mr. Jan Braathu said in his opening speech that “truth and knowledge are crucial prerequisites for reconciliation. Only by documenting the facts about what happened will there be an opportunity to face the past in a constructive way.”

Links:
Programme of the presentation
Programme of the presentation
Power point presentation of the results
Programme of the presentation
Power point presentation of the results
Executive summary of the evaluation, including the experts' CVs
Programme of the presentation
Power point presentation of the results
Executive summary of the evaluation, including the experts' CVs
Mediator Nerma Jelacic's CV


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