ICMP Established as International Organization in its Own Right

The Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, and Luxembourg signed a Framework Agreement on 15 December that grants a new legal status to the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

“This Agreement reflects a new international consensus on the issue of missing persons,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said immediately after the signing ceremony. “For decades the problem of missing persons has been treated as a humanitarian issue, or as a disaster-relief issue, or as a war-emergency issue – but it is now recognized as a systemic global challenge that demands a coherent and effective global response.”

Ms. Bomberger said the Agreement gives ICMP the tools it needs in order to remain at the forefront of this global response. “ICMP has been operating around the world for more than a decade: this Treaty means we can spearhead new initiatives in a way that is consistent with and supportive of the new international consensus on the issue of missing persons.”

ICMP was established in 1996 to ensure the cooperation of governments in the effort to account for the estimated 40,000 people who went missing during the conflicts in former Yugoslavia. In 2003, reflecting the organization’s extraordinary success in implementing its task in the Western Balkans and recognizing the global nature of the missing persons problem, supporting governments extended ICMP’s mandate and sphere of activity to address missing persons issues beyond former Yugoslavia, including cases arising from disasters.

ICMP Chairperson Thomas Miller said the Agreement dovetails with ICMP’s unique and evolving expertise. “This is a logical step for ICMP, which in the last decade has written the playbook for responding to instances of disappearances,” he said. “It gives the organization a firm legal and administrative footing so that it will be able to act quickly and effectively wherever it is needed.”

ICMP is now active in countries throughout the world, from Canada to the Philippines and from Iraq to Mexico. It works with governments, civil society organizations, justice institutions, international organizations and others to address the issue of people who have gone missing as a result of armed conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime and other causes. It is the only international organization that is exclusively dedicated to this issue.

Until now, ICMP’s international legal status has derived principally from the agreements it has reached with governments in the Western Balkans and international organizations such as INTERPOL and IOM. The Agreement, which was signed by Bert Koenders, Philip Hammond, Margot Wallström, Didier Reynders and Jean Asselborn, of the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg respectively, constitutes ICMP as a treaty-based international organization with its own system of governance and international capacities. It provides for a new organizational structure, including a Board of Commissioners as its principal organ, a Conference of State Parties as its plenary organ, and an executive to be headed by a Director General.

The Framework Agreement stipulates that ICMP will establish its Headquarters in The Hague, where it will be close to other international organizations in the justice and rule-of-law field. This move, which is subject to further administrative and legal arrangements, is expected to take place during 2015.

The Framework Agreement will be open for signature by all states after 16 December 2014.