30 August – International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance


The International Day of the Disappeared was established to draw attention to the fate of individuals detained, often in brutal conditions, in places that are unknown to their relatives and loved ones and/or their legal representatives. The initiative originated with the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of Detained-Disappeared (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos, or FEDEFAM), a non-governmental organization founded in 1981 in Cost Rica, as an association of local and regional groups actively working against secret imprisonment, forced disappearances and abduction in a number of Latin American countries. [1]

On 21 December 2010, Resolution 65/209 of the UN General Assembly expressed deep concern over “the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world, including arrest, detention and abduction, when these are part of or amount to enforced disappearances, and by the growing number of reports concerning harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances or relatives of persons who have disappeared.” The same resolution welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and declares 30 August the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to be observed beginning in 2011. [2]

This year on 30 August, to participate in global events to mark the Day and to raise awareness of the alarming increase in the number of enforced disappearances around the world, ICMP organized a global “virtual candle” social media campaign.

“Every year, millions of people around the world go missing because of conflict, human rights abuses, people trafficking, migration, disasters or other causes,” said ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger. “Thousands have gone missing as a result of the Mediterranean migration crisis in the last two years, and that is one area where the international community must develop a coordinated approach. The number of persons who have disappeared because of atrocities and human rights violations in Iraq is another area where a focused, rule-of-law approach is required.”

ICMP is preparing to launch an initiative with the International Organization on Migration and other agencies to assess the number of migrants who are going missing and set in place measures to locate and identify missing migrants. ICMP has been working in Iraq since 2003 and currently has a training and assistance program there.

“ICMP is the only international organization exclusively mandated to address the issue of missing persons,” Ms. Bomberger said. “The International Day of the Disappeared is an appropriate occasion on which to consider ways in which the global community can address this global challenge. We are actively encouraging governments and others to develop strategies to deal with the missing and at the beginning of 2017 we will convene a Global Forum on Missing Persons that we hope will begin the process of forging a global consensus on the issue.”

On 30 August ICMP’s Western Balkans program organized a campaign to light 12,000 virtual candles representing the remaining missing persons in the Western Balkans. Also, in cooperation with associations of families of the missing and the Ministry for Refugees and Human Rights, ICMP organized an event in Sarajevo. Silhouettes symbolizing missing persons were erected in the center of the city, and passersby were invited to write messages and place them on the installations. Volunteers and family members distributed information about the effort to account for the missing, and urged the authorities to accelerate the process and to become more engaged in marking the International Day of the Disappeared.

“ICMP has spearheaded the effort to account for the 40,000 persons who were missing at the end of the conflict,” said Matthew Holliday, the Head of ICMP’s Western Balkans program. “More than 70 percent of these people have been accounted for. That’s a huge number, and nothing like it has been achieved after a conflict anywhere else in the world – but it still means that there are 12,000 families in the region that still do not know the fate of their loved one, and that is why the effort to account for the missing must continue.”

Mr. Holliday noted that the authorities in Croatia and Serbia have recently resolved administrative issues and that an initiative to compile a consolidated Regional List of Missing Persons can now go ahead. “The Regional List will make it possible to eliminate duplication, share information and, hopefully, resolve many more cases,” He said.

ICMP’s Iraq program organized a campaign to light a million virtual candles representing all those who are missing in Iraq.

“Today is an important day throughout the world, but it’s especially important in Iraq,” said the Head of ICMP’s Iraq program, Trefor Williams. “Up to one million persons are believed to have gone missing in Iraq in the last 40 years, more than in any other country in the world.”

Since 2003, ICMP has been working with the authorities in Iraq to strengthen operational and technical capacities, including providing training in mass grave exhumations, crime scene management, and mortuary procedures; providing guidance on effective operational planning, inter-agency cooperation and chain of custody; and upgrading mortuary facilities. ICMP has also worked with families of the missing to help them assert their right to the truth, to justice and to reparations.

Unfortunately, the number of missing persons in Iraq continues to grow, and the majority of those that are missing are presumed to be dead.

“The International Day of the Disappeared is an opportunity for everyone to show solidarity with the families of missing persons,” Mr. Williams said. “It is also an opportunity to strengthen our commitment to helping families come to terms with their loss by finding their loved ones and bringing them home so that they can have a proper burial and commemoration.”

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Day_of_the_Disappeared

[2] http://www.un.org/en/events/disappearancesday/