Baghdad Conference Addresses Multiple Aspects Of the Missing Persons Issue  

Baghdad, 30 August 2018: To mark International Day of the Disappeared, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), in cooperation with the Foundation for Art in Life, organized an event at the National Museum in Baghdad today, which was attended by more than a hundred participants representing almost all government ministries, as well as diplomatic missions and civil society.

Relatives of the missing gave powerful testimonies, describing the challenges that families face when a loved one is a victim of disappearance.

Accompanying the public discussion was an exhibition of art and videography on the theme of missing persons, created by artists from throughout Iraq and from different communities and ethnic groups, exploring the missing persons theme. During the event, the celebrated cellist, Karim Wasfi, played an original composition marking International Day of the Disappeared.

In their remarks, government officials agreed on the need for a proactive response to the issue of missing persons in Iraq, where between 250,000 and one million people are believed to be missing following decades of conflict and repression. ICMP is working with the authorities to develop legislative and institutional mechanisms to account for the missing, and working with families of the missing to support their efforts to access the right to truth, justice and reparations.

Welcoming participants, ICMP Deputy Head of Mission in Iraq Fawaz Abdulabbas stressed that ICMP is working with the authorities in Iraq “to develop laws and institutions that can maintain a long-term missing persons process based on the rule of law”.

Dr. Ali Akram of the High Commission on Human Rights said that in light of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have gone missing, “we have to create a constant coordination between the Iraqi Government and international organizations, including ICMP, to end the suffering of the families and provide reparation for the survivors to live in dignity.”

Former member of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances Mohammed Al-Obaidi urged the authorities to comply with the requirements of the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances, which Iraq signed in 2010, noting that, “when someone is missing in a country, it is the government’s responsibility to take action that will lead to justice and prevent future incidents.”

Furat Al-Jamil of the Foundation for Art in Life highlighted the usefulness of forensic art, which, he noted, “has come very far since last century as a tool that can be used in the process of identifying missing persons.”

Karim Kanaan Wafsi of Peace through Arts said, “art can connect survivors and preserve memory.”

Tamem Waled, a survivor from Mosul, explained the complicated legal system that affects the status of his own family after his father was executed by Da’esh, concluding that “my family wish to have a grave for him, so that we can go and pray at his grave; but we do not even have that.”

William Warda of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization called for “a central database for the whole of Iraq that collects all and updates data on missing persons, ensuring that it is coordinated.”

Ali Simoqy, ICMP’s Civil Society Initiatives Program Coordinator in Iraq, spoke about the impact of the missing persons’ issue on the Yezidi community, noting that the high number of women left to support families may have been responsible for “a rise in the incidence of suicide in the Yezidi community.”

Himan Ramzi from the Tulai Organization of the Turkmen Affairs said that while hundreds of women and children from this community have been abducted by Da’esh, “this has not attracted the same attention as other atrocities”. He also alluded to the fact that social stigma has sometimes complicated efforts to reintegrate abductees after they have been rescued.

Dr. Amira Al Baldawi of the Um Al Yateem Development Foundation highlighted the challenges that women survivors face in providing for families and stressed the need for “greater levels of support for these families so that the impact of the missing persons issue is not transmitted to future generations.”

ICMP’s Head of Civil Society Initiatives in Iraq, Carrie Comer, alluded to the fact that the International Day of the Disappeared is being observed throughout the world, but “for families of the missing, every day is the Day of the Disappeared.”

ICMP has been engaged in Iraq since 2001 and opened an office in Baghdad in 2008 and in Erbil in 2010. ICMP has provided more than 100 technical assistance and training activities. More than 250 specialist officials have received training from ICMP in basic and advanced techniques for locating and recovering the remains of missing persons. In addition, more than 30 Iraqi scientists have participated in ICMP training programs for DNA analysis and more than 40 Iraqi specialists have received training in ante-mortem data processing, including DNA reference sample collection. Since 2016 ICMP has provided operational support to Iraqi experts safeguarding gravesites in Sinjar and excavating mass graves in Tikrit, including the graves at Camp Speicher. ICMP has also worked with families of the missing and other civil society groups in strengthening their capacities so that they can participate more effectively in the process of locating the missing.

ICMP is a treaty-based international organization with headquarters in The Hague. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying 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.