Amnesty campaigns for the ones who disappeared

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THE LAST anyone saw of Sinisa Glavasevic was on 19 November 1991, standing in the grounds of a hospital in the Croatian town of Vukovar. That was the day after Vukovar surrendered to the Yugoslav National Army at the end of its three-month siege. Mr Glavasevic was spotted in a group of people awaiting the arrival of trucks to take them to detention in Serbia.

Mr Glavasevic was a radio journalist, a 33-year-old former librarian and poet, who had taken over the running of the local radio station at the start of the siege. During those three months his voice had become familiar, not only to the few in Vukovar who still had batteries for their radios, but to people living in and around Zagreb and to much of Europe where they were relayed by more powerful transmitters.

It was, says Alenka Kirkovic, one of the survivors of Radio Vukovar, a distinctive voice. 'Glavasevic had a very particular style. You couldn't help remembering it.' Ms Kirkovic was in Washington yesterday to launch Amnesty International's campaign on disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

At the start of the siege, Radio Vukovar's staff drifted away, either because they were Serbs or out of fear, conscious that to go on broadcasting was to become a public figure. The four young Croats who took it on kept up regular bulletins on casualties, bombing raids, conditions in the city and, near the end, pleas to the world to intervene. When their building was destroyed they took the last telephone line to the wine cellars of Vukovar's castle.

Gathering the news consisted of hair-raising races through the city. Putting it out was largely a question of luck. 'It seemed vital to us to tell the world what was going on,' says Ms Kirkovic. Later, when she left, strangers cried when they recognised her from her voice. It was clear that once Vukovar fell they were marked people. They made plans to join a convoy out, but Mr Glavasevic and the radio technician Branimir Polovina were trapped, while the women made it to safety.

The hospital was to have been evacuated under the aegis of the International Committee of the Red Cross, but the Serbs moved quickly, taking away any Croat whom the Serbian hospital staff identified as prominent in the city's siege. It is now thought that 200 were shot not far away, at a place called Orcava.

Mr Glavasevic has left behind his wife, nine-year-old son and mother. His father was taken away by paramilitary forces before the siege. His mother has also lost her own mother, who vanished from one of the convoys to Zagreb. Mr Polovina had been married for four months.

The publicising of details on Croatia's estimated 13,000 missing people, taken to the United States by Ms Markovic, signals an important change for Amnesty, which now intends to do for the missing and the dead what it has for so long done for prisoners of conscience: make them into individual cases for whom its members can campaign.

The report put out by Amnesty today, Getting Away with Murder, makes grisly reading. It is impossible to single out the worst abusers: Sri Lanka, with its Special Task Force unleashed on the country's separatists? Iraq, where 100,000 Kurds 'disappeared' in Operation Anfal? Or El Salvador, said to have lost 2 per cent of its population in political killings?

The UN has little desire to increase its tiny budget for human rights. The UN Working Group on Disappearances is collapsing under a backlog of 6,000 cases, while the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings is down to a staff of two to monitor the entire world.