An Effective Strategy is Urgently Needed To Account for Missing and Disappeared Persons from the Syria Conflict

The Hague, 22 June 2022: – More than 130,000 people are missing as a result of the present conflict in Syria. This includes people who are missing as a consequence of summary executions, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, kidnapping and abduction, enslavement, chemical attacks, and other human rights abuses. The fighting and day-to-day ravages of war have also resulted in combatants and civilians of many nationalities going missing. In addition, migrants and refugees fleeing the region are missing, including children who have been separated from their families, people who have drowned on the Mediterranean crossing, and victims of human trafficking. Syrians and others are also missing as a result of human rights abuses perpetrated in Syria before the current conflict began.

An effective strategy is urgently needed to locate and identify such a large number of people who have gone missing over a protracted period of time and to secure the rights of their families to justice, truth and reparations – including provisions such as inheritance, economic benefits and custody of children. To create such a strategy, cooperation and a common understanding among all stakeholders – civil society, families of the missing, international organizations, states that host Syrian refugees, and Syrian authorities – is essential.

Syrian families of the missing have worked tirelessly to secure information about the whereabouts of their loved ones and to galvanize international support for the immediate release of all detainees. Many families have called for the establishment of an independent and inclusive missing persons mechanism for Syria.  The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) stands ready to support such a mechanism. ICMP hopes that the mechanism will lay the groundwork for a missing persons process that ensures government responsibility for investigating disappearances as a human rights guarantee, in line with the requirements of the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On 21 and 22 June, at its Headquarters in The Hague, ICMP facilitated a series of important discussions on missing persons in the Syria context, including the ninth session of the Syrian-led Policy Coordination Group on Missing Persons (PCG) and the third meeting of the Intergovernmental Roundtable on Missing Persons. The 27-member ICMP-facilitated PCG brings together Syrian family associations, civil society organizations, legal and human rights defenders, and international advisors to develop policy recommendations that can be used to establish a rule-of-law-based missing persons process based on experience and research. The Intergovernmental Roundtable consists of representatives of governments from the MENA region and Europe that host large numbers of Syrian refugees.    The purpose of this forum is to find shared solutions to the challenge of addressing the issue of persons who have gone missing in Syria, as well as Syrians missing on migratory routes or in destination countries.

International law prescribes the responsibility of States to investigate missing persons cases to rule-of-law standards, to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable, and to provide the public with factual and credible information regarding disappeared persons and related crimes.  Such investigations are essential in order to build public trust, social cohesion and peace and stability.  While the current regime in Syria has demonstrated no political will to address this issue and continues a campaign of disappearances, Syrian civil society and international institutions working together have made progress in laying the groundwork for a future process of locating large numbers of missing persons and investigating their disappearance.

About ICMP

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.