Building Skills: Syrian Stakeholders Learn About Missing Persons Process


The Hague, 6 March 2020: Representatives of civil society organizations involved in Syria learned about the missing persons process in a learning and development program organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) through its newly launched ICMP Wim Kok Center of Excellence and Learning.

The new learning program uses a simulation exercise to teach scientists, judges, prosecutors, academics, families of the missing and civil society organizations about the process of locating and identifying missing persons, from reporting a missing person to locating a missing person.  The program also helps “first responders” learn about the importance of documenting the location of irregular gravesites.

Participants in the 27 February simulation exercise learned about each aspect of the missing persons process and the need for securing and centralizing relevant data so that missing persons can be found. The simulation underlined the importance of an integrated system that collects and shares relevant information.

First, participants learned how to enter data collected from family members who are searching for missing relatives into a data management system developed by the ICMP, and how to take a DNA sample from the family members.

At a station depicting a mock mass grave, they learned how forensic scientists work to collect and document information that can lead to the identification of those buried in the grave and be used in criminal trials against perpetrators. At a simulated mortuary, they learned about the analysis that is done in such facilities. The last station focused on how DNA is extracted from skeletal remains, and how this DNA is compared with that collected from family members to determine whether there is a match.

The training followed a policy discussion organized by the ICMP regarding what can be done now to address the issue of missing persons in Northeast Syria, from the creation of a centralized, secure data processing system for all information that can support efforts to locate and identify missing persons and future accountability mechanisms, to steps to ensure that detainees share information about the missing.  Representatives from civil society organizations and other stakeholders took part in the discussion, which was based on an assessment conducted by ICMP between September 2019 and January 2020.

“The learning and development program and the policy discussion both aimed to support the Syrian civil society organizations and family associations in their work on the issue of the missing. We will continue supporting the organizations so that they can help those missing and their families to secure their rights,” said ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger.

Tens of thousands of Syrians are missing, as a direct result of  conflict-related  summary executions, arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, kidnappings and abductions, enslavement and other human rights abuses, and as a result of irregular migration from the region. The surviving families of the missing often do not know if the person is missing inside or outside Syria. Some have relatives who have gone missing in different locations.

ICMP’s Syria/MENA Program is working to establish the foundations for an effective process to address the issue of missing persons. The program places the rights of families of the missing at the center of the effort to account for their relatives, regardless of the circumstances of the missing person, their ethnic, or religious background, or their role in the conflict. The Program is being implemented among refugees and along migratory routes.

The Wim Kok Centre for Excellence and Learning works to fulfil the ICMP mandate through sharing knowledge, experience and technical expertise on the missing person issue.

ICMP is a treaty-based international 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.