Peace Network in the War Zone

History of Online Missing-Persons Services, 1995-1999

Note added 18 Apr 98: Publicly-accessible databases, used for to organized online missing-persons work, have proven difficult to maintain, almost impossibly so for volunteer, unfunded groups. Though every crisis brings a new effort (see the current updates on the Searching for People page), the use of the general internet to implement missing-persons work by grassroots groups has not lived up to expectations. Still, individuals looking for friends and relatives may find it useful to investigate the links on the Searching for People page. 

The following is of historical interest only. In 1996 the internet was composed of networks running on incompatible protocols, and  the SPE/PISMA project was designed to pass information between web databases and mailing lists. Today, with the web and TCP/IP ubiquitous, such interconnection is no longer necessary.

Obsolete links have been deactivated in the following text. The PFS site, which continues to be added to, is included in the aforementioned Searching for People page, as is the ICRC index page. The ICRC database, which seems to have last been updated in June 1996, is still (Apr 99) accessible from the ICRC index page. The missing persons records in the Refugee Mail Services directory of the IGC Balkans gopher mostly contains records copied from the the BBC site. The gopher, which was last updated in 1996, is linked below in the event that it may be of some archival use.

Subject: Missing Persons Project (English)
Date: 01 Aug 1996 03:22:53
From: PeaceNet Balkans Desk <>


The use of electronic networks by volunteer activists to supplement the work of professionals engaged in searching for people lost or displaced in the recent Balkan wars is an attractive idea. However, it has been unexpectedly difficult to set up such a project.

However, final arrangements have been completed, and I am now able to make missing-person (MP) records available on ZaMirNet (ZTN). This posting outlines the general state of missing-persons work, and of my own project.

  1. ICRC ACTIVITY: As I mentioned at the end of June, the ICRC has constructed a large MP database for former Yugoslavia, and is distributing printed lists drawn from this database. When these lists become generally available, it will not be necessary to do online MP work. However, at present different ICRC offices handle the lists differently, and correspondents have reported during the past month that the lists are not yet available everywhere.
  2. ICRC AND PFS WEB SITES: The first attempt to make ICRC MP lists available online was Veseljko Simonovic's BBC World Service site in London. In addition to this, the ICRC now has its own site (Geneva), at which the entire ICRC database may be searched. Dubravko Kakarigi's PFS (People Finder Service) site (Florida) is a place where individuals can themselves upload information about their missing relatives. (The ICRC/BBC sites can only be written to by ICRC/BBC staff, working from requests supplied to ICRC Tracing-Office workers. As might be expected, the records in the "self-service" PFS site are not as orderly as those at the ICRC/BBC sites.)

    It is too early to tell whether these web sites actually help in the finding of people, and whether making it possible for the public to write to a database is a useful supplement to the moderated sites.
  3. MAKING MP RECORDS AVAILABLE ON ZTN VIA SPE-PISMA-L: The problem with the web sites is that people within the Balkans cannot use them, because the web is not generally available there. I also have messages from people elsewhere in the world who have good email facilities, but are not able to access the web. So I have developed routines to convert the web-site records to a form usable on mailing lists. I will post these converted records to the mailing list SPE-PISMA-L. In turn, the records from that list will be copied on the new ZTN Slavonia conference /zamir/reg/slavonia/info by Manfred Schmid of the "Teiler Slavonia Assistance Programme." In this way online peace activists in former Yugoslavia will be able to see and make use of the MP records.

I also hope that people in the .YU domain who are interested in reconciliation and reconstruction will also subscribe to SPE- PISMA-L and participate in this project.

Naturally, the mailing list is open to those who wish to locate their own relatives, as well as to those who are engaged in general MP work. Subscribers will be able to post requests to SPE-PISMA-L. At present the list is moderated, and I will review all posts as a way to keep some control over the format of the records. (Also, by way of the previously announced "ascii-input forms", it is still possible for people without direct web access to post requests to PFS.) All the Balkans-specific records on PFS will eventually be on SPE-PISMA-L, and requests coming into the mailing list will be uploaded to the web site as appropriate.

Volunteers cannot be expected to have the resources, financial and otherwise, of the large NGOs (NonGovernmental Organizations), and SPE-PISMA-L and the Slavonia conference should be viewed as experimental supplements to the programs of ICRC, IRC, and other NGOs. The ICRC database contains some 11,000 names, and at present I am not planning to copy any of these over to SPE-PISMA-L. If, after I complete the uploads of the BBC and PFS records (about 600 records altogether), it becomes clear that distributing MP records via email and ZTN is a useful project, I'll be glad to work with other peace activists and professional staff to improve and expand the service. -- Ed Agro (Boston)

Note: An archive of the SPE-PISMA-L MP postings will be placed in the IGC Balkans gopher.

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