Kyiv, 29 August 2023: Ukraine can account for tens of thousands of missing people if it takes steps to fill gaps in its institutional framework and encourages closer cooperation between families of the missing and the government agencies that have responsibility for addressing this issue, the Head of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) Ukraine Program, Matthew Holliday, told reporters in Kyiv today.
Holliday was speaking at a press conference to present A Country of Missing People: Securing Justice and Truth for Families of the Missing in Ukraine, published by ICMP to mark International Day of the Disappeared. The book provides an overview of the missing persons issue in Ukraine. It reviews the steps that Ukraine is already taking to address this issue, and shows in detail how an effective missing persons strategy can secure truth and justice for large numbers of families of the missing.
Holliday stressed the importance of recognizing “the efforts that are being made by the authorities in Ukraine. Even in the midst of conflict, they are endeavoring to establish an effective process,” and he said the May 2023 Ministry of Internal Affairs’ launch of the Unified Register on Persons Gone Missing under Special Circumstances was a significant step towards developing a secure system for collecting and sharing information through which missing persons can be located and identified. He said A Country of Missing People highlights the rights of families of the missing and shows how families around the world have accessed these rights, adding that “ICMP has held extensive consultations with the relevant Ukrainian ministries with a view to helping them meet their obligations to families.”
Tetiana Melnyk, the Head of the Kyiv branch of the “Nadiia” organization, which has been active in searching for people who went missing in eastern Ukraine since 2014, said “the need to develop better communication between families of the missing and government departments that have responsibility for missing persons” needs to be highlighted.
Melnyk pointed to cases where “support is being provided, but families are not informed, which means they do not get access to this support.” She also cited cases of municipal authorities that do not know how many families of the missing are in their jurisdiction and consequently cannot provide adequate assistance.
Kevin Sullivan, the author of A Country of Missing People, said that although Ukraine had developed capabilities including a DNA laboratory network before the war, “the conflict has created demand that goes well beyond the capacity of the peacetime system.” He also stressed that information gathered by different agencies – the military, the police, the various institutions established to account for missing persons – has to be brought together.
Sullivan, who reported on disappearances in the former Yugoslavia as a correspondent during the conflicts of the 1990s, has worked closely with ICMP for more than a decade and has written extensively about the global missing persons issue. He highlighted the connection between accounting for missing persons and upholding the rule of law. “The government has a legal obligation to mount effective investigations. These should be conducted in a way that makes it possible to present evidence in court, so that perpetrators of war crimes can be brought to justice.”
TV journalist Andriy Kulykov, who chaired today’s press conference, alluded to some of the key points that were raised by Ukrainian civil society organizations at a public discussion organized by ICMP in The Hague earlier this year. “They called on the authorities to develop a more efficient and more humane state strategy on missing persons so that people facing this terrible situation will not be alone,” Kulykov said. “They pointed out that many families of the missing struggle with renewing and preparing documents, and they identified major differences in the way in which military and civilian missing are treated. A Country of Missing Persons examines many of these issues in more detail and looks at how they can be addressed.”
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the co-operation of governments and other authorities in locating persons missing as a result of conflicts, human rights abuses, disasters, organized violence and other causes and to assist them in doing so.
ICMP was one of the organizations that helped to identify victims of Flight MH17, shot down by a Russian missile over eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014. It has recommended legislative and institutional measures to enhance Ukraine’s capacity to account for missing persons. Many of these recommendations had already been implemented before the 2022 Russian invasion. In April 2022, the authorities in Ukraine requested urgent ICMP assistance. ICMP deployed staff in the Spring of 2022, opened an office in Kyiv in July, and launched a comprehensive program to help the Ukrainian institutions account for those who are missing as a result of the Russian invasion.
ICMP’s Ukraine Program is supported by the Government of Canada, the European Union Service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI), the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), and the German Federal Foreign Office.