Life-saving action: Collecting and destroying guns in Bosnia and Herzegovina

by Djordje Milosevic, SEESAC intern

In late March, UNDP in Bosnia and Herzegovina organized consultations about a possible campaign for the collection and destruction of illegal weapons and unexploded ordnance.

Representatives of the Cantonal Ministries of Interior, Brcko District Police and the Ministry of Interior of Republika Srpska gathered in snowy Vlašić, a beautiful mountain site located at the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The significance of this meeting is only strengthened by recent history of Bosnia and Herzegovina – the country most affected by wars following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1990s.

As in any war, ordinary citizens were those who suffered the most. Thousands of innocent people were killed on all sides. Full reconciliation is still a work in progress.

The country still has a large number of illegal weapons and mines that remain in the hands of ordinary citizens. By its very nature, the number of illegal weapons in the population is very difficult to measure. It is estimated that there is between 140,000 and 750,000 illegal weapons in the hands of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The fact that the problem is recognized by the representatives of the police and that they showed a desire to work on it together is encouraging. However, more work is needed.

During the meetings, participants shared experiences, asked interesting questions and exchanged advice.

I was particularly interested in the insights from Krunoslav Katic, our colleague from UNDP in Croatia, who shared his experiences with raising awareness about illegal weapons and their collection in Croatia.

Each collected and destroyed rifle or pistol can save someone’s life” he said.

Apart from the commitment of police officers, we need political support to implement these actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Politicians, as legitimate representatives of the people, should be dedicated to solving this problem soon.

One of the first steps would be the adoption of an amnesty law, which would allow citizens who are in possession of illegal weapons to surrender them without legal consequences.

A good example of such a law and subsequent practice is currently being enforced in Croatia.

With help and expertise of the international community, I sincerely hope that 2013 will be the year when citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina voluntarily surrender their weapons and make their home, their community and their country, safer.