Prisoner Release: General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina

THE GENERAL FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT: ANNEX 1-A

Article IX: Prisoner Exchanges

1. The Parties shall release and transfer without delay all combatants and civilians held in relation to the conflict (hereinafter "prisoners"), in conformity with international humanitarian law and the provisions of this Article.

a. The Parties shall be bound by and implement such plan for release and transfer of all prisoners as may be developed by the ICRC, after consultation with the Parties.

b. The Parties shall cooperate fully with the ICRC and facilitate its work in implementing and monitoring the plan for release and transfer of prisoners.

c. No later than thirty (30) days after the Transfer of Authority, the Parties shall release and transfer all prisoners held by them.

d. In order to expedite this process, no later than twenty-one (21) days after this Annex enters into force, the Parties shall draw up comprehensive lists of prisoners and shall provide such lists to the ICRC, to the other Parties, and to the Joint Military Commission and the High Representative. These lists shall identify prisoners by nationality, name, rank (if any) and any internment or military serial number, to the extent applicable.

e. The Parties shall ensure that the ICRC enjoys full and unimpeded access to all places where prisoners are kept and to all prisoners. The Parties shall permit the ICRC to privately interview each prisoner at least forty-eight (48) hours prior to his or her release for the purpose of implementing and monitoring the plan, including determination of the onward destination of each prisoner.

f. The Parties shall take no reprisals against any prisoner or his/her family in the event that a prisoner refuses to be transferred.

g. Notwithstanding the above provisions, each Party shall comply with any order or request of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for the arrest, detention, surrender of or access to persons who would otherwise be released and transferred under this Article, but who are accused of violations within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. Each Party must detain persons reasonably suspected of such violations for a period of time sufficient to permit appropriate consultation with Tribunal authorities.

2. In those cases where places of burial, whether individual or mass, are known as a matter of record, and graves are actually found to exist, each Party shall permit graves registration personnel of the other Parties to enter, within a mutually agreed period of time, for the limited purpose of proceeding to such graves, to recover and evacuate the bodies of deceased military and civilian personnel of that side, including deceased prisoners.

Implementation History

1995

Intermediate Implementation

As required by the Dayton Accord, 245 Serb and Muslim prisoners of war were exchanged on a bridge in northern Bosnia on 25 December 1995. Other prisoners of war remained in both Entities. Under the agreement, the deadline of 19 January 1996 was set for the release of prisoners.

1996

Full Implementation

As the deadline of 19 January for the release of prisoners approached, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been optimistic regarding the release of 900 prisoners of war in Bosnia, but this did not happen. Only 225 prisoners were released as of the 19 January deadline.1 Part of the delay was related to the government’s insistence on the whereabouts of 24,742 people whose names were handed to Serbs. The Bosnian government official in charge of POW exchange said that 4,000 on the list of those missing were expected to be prisoners.2 On 16 January 1996, the Bosnian government called off the release of prisoners by charging that Bosnian Serbs had failed to provide information of about 24,000 people.

On 23 January 1996, the U.S. threatened to cut off aid if the prisoners were not released.3 Following the US threat, Bosnia agreed to free its political prisoners. 

On 28 January 1996, 250 Bosnian Serb prisoners were released by Croatian and Bosnian government forces.4

Even though the process of releasing prisoners moved forward, the Serb, Croats, and Bosniaks/Muslims did not completely comply. Therefore, on 5 April 1996, the U.N. Security Council demanded that all parties release the remaining prisoners. It was believed that there were still 88-90 prisoners held by Bosnian Serb, Muslim, and Croat forces.5

The High Representative reported to the U.N. Secretary General that “Intensive pressure, including the possible sanction of non-complying Parties, resulted in the release of most prisoners registered by the ICRC who were detained in relation to the conflict."6 However, there was an issue related to some prisoners detained in 1995 who were not registered by the ICRC, but those cases were referred to the Hague for review. Most prisoners were released in 1996, though none of the parties met the deadline.

  • 1. “Prisoner Swap Begins in Bosnia,” Toronto Star, January 20, 1996.
  • 2. “Planned Prisoner Exchange in Bosnia Falls Through,” Charleston Gazette (West Virginia), January 16, 1996.
  • 3. “Threatens Bosnia With Aid Cutoff If Prisoners Are Not Exchanged,” January 23, 1996.
  • 4. “BOSNIA: Trade of prisoners resumes; Rival factions bow to world pressure,” Ottawa Citizen, January 28, 1996.
  • 5. “Security Council Demands Prisoner Release in Bosnia,” Associated Press, April 5, 1996.
  • 6. “2nd Report of the High Representative for Implementation of the Bosnian Peace Agreement to the Secretary-General of the United Nations,” OHR, 1996, accessed May 3, 2011, http://www.ohr.int/other-doc/hr-reports/default.asp?content_id=3664#3.8.
1997

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

1998

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

1999

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2000

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2001

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2002

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2003

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2004

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2005

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.