Jagoda Savić - Foto Nicole Corritore (OBCT)

Jagoda Savić - Photo Nicole Corritore (OBCT)

Our investigation continues on the dramatic case of the 46 children from the Bjelave orphanage in Sarajevo. The second part of the interview with human rights activist Jagoda Savić, who has been dealing with the case since 2000

25/09/2018 -  Nicole Corritore

This interview is part of an extensive investigation, presented in an article published on September 20th

On July 18th, 1992, when Sarajevo had already been under siege for three months, a convoy of 67 children left the city. The group included 46 orphans and minors in disadvantaged situations who were staying at the orphanage, to be sheltered temporarily. At the end of the war, however, they did not return to Bosnia, but were given up for adoption by Italian families, although some of their biological parents were alive. Thanks to the investigations undertaken by Jagoda Savić to assist some biological parents in their search for their children, a series of procedural vices emerged in the international adoption procedure, as exposed in the first part of the interview published on September 12th.

As we wrote in 2006 , as soon as the war was over, Uzeir Kahvić went to the orphanage in Sarajevo to get information about his daughter Sedina, and learned that she was still in Italy. After vain attempts to see her again and get her back, he turned to you...

In 2000, when he turned to my association "Sos – telefon", I began to gather information about him and check the veracity of what he had told me. I turned to a social worker who at the time worked at the institute "Ljubica Ivezić" [renamed "Dječiji dom Bjelave " in 1997, ed.]. When she confirmed the identity of her father, she told me the details of the difficult family situation: a deceased mother and a father forced to leave his daughter in an institute. She then told me that Uzeir went regularly to visit the girl and was always very affectionate, and I decided to help him. It is a very important point, because it shows that he always took care of her and never abandoned her.

So, as you described in your article, between 2000 and 2005 we started an immense series of attempts to get father and daughter to meet, but meanwhile the Juvenile Court of Milan ratified the adoption.

Yet, in 2004, the Human Rights Commission of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognised the violation of a number of Uzeir's rights...

The ruling said that the Bosnian state had not done all it was necessary to obtain the reunion of father and daughter, awarded damages for 3000 KM (about 1500 Euros) and ordered the Bosnian state to obtain all the documents related to the case from the Italian authorities and ensure the meeting between parent and daughter within 60 days. However, the meeting did not happen.

In 2005, a group of experts was also formed in the Bosnian Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which over a period of two years managed to obtain information from Italy. They also visited the two centres where the children were hosted, they met those who were now of age and the vice-president of the Juvenile Court of Milan, Laura Laera.

However, it should be noted that their final report, submitted to the Bosnian Council of Ministers on January 26th, 2006, failed to address two crucial points: first, the violations of Italian laws in the adoption procedures by Milan's Juvenile Court; secondly, how the two states tried to resolve the dispute concerning the children's repatriation.

Can you explain this point some more?

Each litigation is resolved via diplomatic notes expressing the position of the country that disputes the approach of the other country. And so between the Italian position, which had tasked Milan's Juvenile Court with assessing each child individually, and the Bosnian position that awaited the return of the entire group of children, a compromise could have been found. I think it was an absolutely resolvable situation and I am convinced that, with a little effort and good will between the parties, a solution could have been reached in favour of the biological parents.

However, this exchange of official diplomatic notes between Italy and Bosnia did not happen. In particular, the Bosnian side never officially asked the Italian state for the return of children, while the Italian side never officially replied that it prohibited their return. The procedures were delegated to a lower institutional level, the Court of Milan, thus avoiding a "question between states".

Going back to the group of Bosnian experts you mentioned earlier, did you find any other critical issues in the report presented to the Council of Ministers?

The main problem is that the Group's report lacked the letter from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that had been forwarded to my association and that we had regularly filed at the protocol office of the Human Rights Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina on December 2nd, 2005, i.e. two months before the meeting of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers devoted to the case. The stamp of the protocol office is undeniable evidence that our Ministry of Human Rights had received the letter from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On January 24th, 2006, that is two days before the Council meeting, my association "Missing Children" – that I founded to follow the case – deposited the official request for this ministry to explain why the Italian letter had not been included in the report by the Group of experts. The following day, the ministry gave the Council of Ministers the file on Uzeir Kahvić's case they received from us, containing several documents translated from Italian into Bosnian as well as the letter from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, without the latter being mentioned in the list of documents cited in the beginning of the file.

Thanks to our further energic intervention, the document was attached to the final report presented to the Council of Ministers. In the January 26th session, however, rapporteur Amir Pilav, a member of the Group of experts, made no mention of the existence of the document. This is confirmed by the official transcript of the meeting, which we obtained thanks to the law on the right of access to information.

However, I have to mention that the Office for Adoptions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, in writing and to us, that it had forwarded to the Bosnian authorities a series of international letters rogatory [the basic act of the international adoption procedure, by which the biological parent is asked whether they want to get the child back or to give him/her up for adoption, ed.] to be sent to the biological parents, but did not mention any information on these parents' failure to respond to the Juvenile Court in Milan.

Has the Bosnian state ever dealt with the matter again?

The matter actually ended with the official evaluation by the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, at the session of May 16th, 2006. The statements of the then Foreign Minister, as is apparent from the transcript of the session, are clear: "Honestly, I do not understand what is expected of us, and for this reason I could not propose any conclusion. (...) I do not know which position you might take. I think this has been a media fuss and that at this moment we should and could no longer do anything".

I do not know whether these statements are the result of a personal assessment of the case that prompted the minister to distance himself from the matter, or if his Department of Foreign Affairs had given him wrong information, or if he simply trusted what the Human Rights Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina had given him. The result is that the Bosnian state closed the matter.

Have you continued your research anyway?

Sure. With Uzeir, we decided to give the case to an Italian lawyer, Silvia Muto, who asked and obtained from the Juvenile Court of Milan to access the Sedina dossier. She then requested authorisation for the meeting between the child and the father, but the court denied it based on the law that prevents a biological parent to have contact with the child, unless it is the latter to ask for it and only at the age of 25.

I was not surprised. Since 2000, when we began to ask for information, the president of the Court was Livia Pomodoro. If several parents were looking for their children, it meant that something was wrong with the international adoption procedure, right? Yet, Livia Pomodoro has never shown willingness to face the core of the problem, that is the violation of the law that regulates international adoptions. For example, Sedina Kahvić's file states that, when Milan's court received Uzeir's statement that he wanted to get his daughter back, the court's social worker decided not to inform Sedina.

So they went through with the adoption procedure...

Yes. In 2005, we decided to write to President of the Republic Ciampi who, through the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, replied in just 4 days, on November 10th. Despite his interest, we could not discover the truth. We learned it only a few years later, when Livia Pomodoro retired and we tried again with her successor, Mario Zevola.

He was very correct and cooperative towards all biological parents. He answered all our questions, and thanks to the documents he sent we understood Italy's trick with the letters rogatory [see first part of the interview ]. If there is a positive side in this whole story, it was Dr. Zevola's behaviour. By opening the files, respecting the Italian law on exchange of information, gave us the opportunity to access a part of the truth that parents needed so much to know.

As for Sedina's case, over the years we have also received other information. For example, in a letter of December 2007, the Italian Foreign Minister addresses Uzeir Kahvić declaring that the Juvenile Court of Milan had sent a series of documents and requests for biological parents to express themselves on the matter, but had never received a reply from the Bosnian authorities.

However, this statement contrasts with one fact: in our research, we found the letter accompanying a message sent by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dated December 2nd, 1998. Unfortunately, the file that we were was shown was missing the document attached to the letter, so we could not trace its contents. Yet, at least we have proof that the Bosnian state did not completely ignore Italy's requests.

What happened after the letter to President Ciampi?

Uzeir Kahvić, Chi l'ha visto Rai3 19 novembre 2005

Uzeir Kahvić, Rai programme "Chi l'ha visto" of November 19th, 2005


We turned to television. The Rai programme "Chi l'ha visto" of November 19th, 2005 devoted a long report to Sedina's case. This was the turning point. Sedina, passing by on her way from the kitchen to the living room, recognised her father's voice, which she had not heard since 1996, when he had managed to talk to her once in the Mamma Rita Centre, and was very surprised that her father had been looking for her. So, we finally got in touch and found out that she lived in a small village in Tuscany.

The meeting between Sedina and Uzeir – that I accompanied – took place at

the train station in Florence. The first thing Sedina said was that we had taken a huge burden from her heart, because she had always felt abandoned by her father.

The meeting also clarified other things. Uzeir, upon learning that she was in Italy, had sent her a letter with 20 German marks and pictures of them through the Sarajevo social services. She had answered him, but he never

received the letter. So he thought they could not communicate anymore, while she was convinced that her father had abandoned her. When we met, everybody cried.

In 2008, Sedina also came to Bosnia and finally met other members of her family of origin.

How many parents have been looking for information and how many have been able to find their children?

Of the 16 adopted children, all had at least one living parent. And if that parent was, for example, in prison, or in a facility for the mentally ill or any other public facility, they still existed and had not lost parental authority.

There are 8 parents who have been searching for their children through our association. Some found them thanks to us; a mother found her daughter through Facebook; thanks to you at Osservatorio, last year a family found two brothers who had been adopted by two different Italian families. There is a biological mother who lives in Austria and who has sought and found her son, but her son refused to come into contact with her. Another family has found their son, who is however entrusted to an Italian Institute and is not allowed to have contacts with the family of origin.

Unfortunately, there is a father who is still looking for his son. The son is called Dejan Golijanin and was just under five years old when he left on July 18th, 1992. His father has been desperately looking for him since the war ended in 1996.

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