The Hague, 25 November 2022: Accounting for missing persons, including victims of enforced disappearance is an integral part of the global effort to end violence against women and uphold fundamental human rights, the Director-General of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), Kathryne Bomberger, said today. Ms Bomberger was speaking on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which marks the start of “16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence”, a UN-mandated global campaign that leads up to Human Rights Day on 10 December.
“In conflict, most of those who go missing are men, which means that women survivors have to address legal, social, and political challenges, often in the face of deeply-entrenched prejudice,” Ms Bomberger said. “At the same time, women are specifically targeted by people-traffickers, and experience discrimination in other missing persons contexts: for example, in the West, disappearances of women of color, women from migrant communities, women from minority and Indigenous communities, are often not investigated in a thorough or timely way.”
Ms Bomberger added, “it is imperative that the issue of missing persons is kept to the fore. The gender aspect of disappearances must not be ignored.”
Across the world, women typically play a leading role in associations of families of the missing that campaign for the rights of survivors. Ahead of Human Rights Day, ICMP invited women in areas where it has programs, including the Western Balkans, Mexico, Syria, and Ukraine, to speak about their experience.
“Only women who have been in my shoes and experienced the disappearance of their spouse will understand what we have gone through,” said Xhemile Morina, whose husband, Halit, went missing during the Kosovo conflict in 1999. “Women like myself who lost their husbands during and after the war, have faced tremendous pain, scorn, misunderstanding, spiritual neglect, and trauma, as the result of an outdated, patriarchal social morality and intolerant traditions.” She highlighted the need for solidarity among women and among families of the missing: “The connection and cooperation among women who suffered throughout the war made them stronger and more visible in their path, for themselves and, especially, for their children.”
Kateryna Pryimak, deputy Head of the Ukrainian Women’s Veteran Movement, said, “We consider it necessary and important to advise relatives and loved ones how to keep records, how to look for those who are in captivity, how to demand their inclusion on lists for (prisoner) exchange, how to draw attention to the conditions in which women prisoners of war are kept.”
Isabel Rivera, whose daughter, Guadalupe Jazmin, went missing in 2010 in the Mexican state of Nuevo León, has spent 11 years working actively with the AMORES collective of families of the missing. She explained that she had lost her job because she has dedicated her time to taking care of her granddaughter while searching for her daughter. “You can’t forget,” she said, “but it’s important to keep faith in God and the hope of finding her. It‘s important to learn to live with the pain . . . and stand up and keep searching.”
Brankica Antic, whose husband, Zlatko, went missing during the Kosovo conflict in 1999, said “the hope that we would bring him back alive to his children, to me, to his mother and brother has never ceased. The struggle for survival has continued in parallel with the search for information.” Brankica Antic is actively engaged in the work of an association of families of missing persons. “The trust of the families I represent gives me additional strength to continue, to follow the process of accounting for missing persons and to provide my support as much as I can. Over the years, I have met many women with the same fate as mine. Every one of them has experienced and lived through trauma struggling to preserve the dignity of a faithful wife who took over the role of the household head and care for the children.”
Layali Abu Hamze from Syria, who was herself a victim of incommunicado detention in Aleppo, said women detainees face particular challenges, including the way they are perceived by society after they have been released. “I was released from prison and dismissed from my work at the same time. I loved my job, and this hurt me. I kept asking myself: was being detained a source of pride or a source of shame? But I am proud, because I was abducted for believing in a cause, and many people were martyred for that cause.”
Sozan Haidar Saaed, who was abducted by Da’esh in 2014 in Iraq along with her family members, has not been able to learn the fate of her father and her three sisters. Since her release, she has had to live in very difficult conditions. “We live in a tent that doesn’t give protection from the scorching heat in summer or the freezing cold in winter. Recently we secured a house, but the it’s very far from the school. Today, I walked to school in the rain and when I arrived I was covered in mud. I have seen a great deal of suffering, but I haven’t given up. All survivors face the same suffering and the same challenges. I want to continue my education and I know that the future holds opportunities for me.”
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.