A Cornerstone of Peacebuilding – Addressing the Issue of Missing and Disappeared Persons


28 January 2016: The cross-cutting global challenge of accounting for missing and disappeared persons can be addressed effectively through a coherent international policy, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told at briefing for senior diplomats at the United Nations in New York today.

The issue of missing persons and enforced disappearances is linked to international peace and security, he said. “Appropriate legislation and adequate frameworks are needed for processes to account for the missing. Mechanisms to clarify the fate of missing persons need to be transparent and depoliticised, and the needs of the missing should be at the center of any action, including families of the missing.”

The briefing on accounting for missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration and other involuntary causes was organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons and hosted by the United Kingdom Mission to the UN.

Speakers noted that when there are large numbers of missing persons, this can prolong the trauma of conflict, exacerbate the fragility of peace, and impede the development of democratic society.

ICMP Chairman Thomas Miller stressed that it is “imperative that accounting for the missing is understood to be a cornerstone of peacebuilding,” adding that, “around the world today there are millions of families who do not know the fate of a missing loved one – and this means millions of reasons for fear, for anger, and for alienation.”

In December 2014, ICMP was granted a new global mandate under international treaty, facilitating the organization’s capacity to ensure the cooperation of governments and others in accounting for persons missing regardless of the circumstances of their disappearance.

High Commissioner Zeid pointed out that, as a result, for the first time there is a specialized international organization that can support domestic and other authorities in their efforts to comply with their legal obligations towards missing and disappeared persons.

David Tolbert, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, reviewed the role of truth commissions, criminal trials and other strategies in addressing the legacy of mass disappearances. Noting that “no circumstances can justify enforced disappearances,” he added that “uncovering the truth can be a massive step toward justice and peace.”

Sister Consuelo Morales, of the Mexican civil society organization, CADHAC, which has successfully brought together families of the missing in Northern Mexico with the judicial and police authorities in order to expedite investigations, said families can and must play a direct and coordinated role in the process of accounting for the missing if this process is to be sustained and effective.

The meeting was chaired by UK Permanent Representative Matthew Rycroft. Other speakers included US Permanent Representative Samantha Power and ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger.

For more information on efforts to address the global challenge of accounting for missing and disappeared persons, please visit www.icmp.int