ICMP Newsletter: Missing Persons Issues in 2015

Review

ICMP’s January newsletter reported on an initiative designed to promote dialogue on the missing persons process in the Western Balkans and the role of families in this process. Activities included innovative workshops that explored ways of articulating, sharing and coming to terms with key issues. Objectives included building empathy between young people and older family members through personal narratives; helping participants to understand how the missing persons issue affects different generations in different ways; encouraging older family members to identify positive forces that can help take the missing persons process forward; and fostering dialogue between young people and older family members.

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The February issue examined gender roles in conflict, starting out with the observation that in order to achieve lasting peace, it is imperative that women become active participants in decision-making. The experiences of women in dealing with war – and with the legacy of war – differ greatly from those of men. The article notes that while men still dominate policymaking in most post-conflict societies, women tend to be active in the non-governmental sector, advocating for transitional justice, seeking to assert and secure their rights and their children’s rights, and searching for missing persons – fathers, husbands and sons.

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The March Newsletter featured a wide-ranging interview with ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger which had earlier appeared in the Bosnian daily newspaper Oslobodjenje. Among other things, Ms Bomberger stressed that a key challenge in Bosnia and Herzegovina is to maintain public and political focus on the effort to find those who are still missing. She also spoke about the ICMP Agreement signed by the Netherlands, the UK, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg in December 2014, establishing ICMP as a treaty-based international organization in its own right, and she explained ICMP’s strategy for developing its new international role while maintaining many of its key activities in the Western Balkans.

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In April the Newsletter carried an article on the ICMP Agreement, which came into force following ratification by Sweden and the United Kingdom. The Agreement reflects an emerging international consensus about the nature and scale of the missing persons problem worldwide and the urgent need to tackle this problem in a coherent and effective way. It establishes ICMP as the preeminent International Organization mandated to address the global problem of missing persons, to assist States in discharging their obligation to prevent persons from going missing, and to investigate missing persons cases effectively. It specifically calls on ICMP to make a substantive contribution to global justice by strengthening the rule of law and helping to redress past omissions in humanitarian law.

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The May issue featured a study of memorialization and the Mexican missing persons crisis. In 2013 the Mexican government released figures showing that between 2006 and 2012 more than 26,000 people in the country were reported as missing or disappeared. These, however, represent just those cases that have been reported to the authorities, and it is believed that fear of reporting disappearances has masked the full extent of the problem. Relatives and civil society in Mexico are engaged in a wide variety of temporary, performance and artistic memorial initiatives that represent a protest and at the same time commemorate the disappeared by rejecting attempts to forget or to make the official “historic truth” the accepted record at the expense of a thorough record of the facts.

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The June issue included an article which examined the connection between migration and the missing. In 2013, out of 232 million estimated migrants globally, 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced, that is compelled to leave their homes in an attempt to escape from armed conflicts, persecution, political instability, natural disasters and poverty. Relatively little is known about the migrants who die during their journey and/or go missing, as no organization at the global level is monitoring these fatalities and very few governments collect and publish data on migrant deaths.

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The July issue of the Newsletter covered the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, including ICMP Commissioner Queen Noor’s speech at the 11 July commemoration event. ICMP Chair Thomas Miller, and Commissioners Wim Kok, Knut Vollebaek and Alistair Burt also participated at the commemoration, which was attended by world leaders and 50,000 mourners. “We do not stand with you only to mourn, but to continue the long and steady process of seeking – and securing – truth and justice,” Queen Noor said. She noted that almost 90 percent of around 8,000 who went missing from Srebrenica in July 1995 have been identified and buried with dignity.

The July Newsletter also reported on strategic decisions reached at the ICMP Commissioners’ meeting in Sarajevo on 10 July.  Holding their 17th plenary meeting since ICMP was founded in 1996, and their first meeting since the signing of the ICMP Agreement in December 2014, the Commissioners adopted Rules of Procedure in accordance with ICMP’s new international status and elected Thomas Miller as Chair of the Board of Commissioners. They also reviewed and adopted ICMP’s work plan for 2015-18: the core objective will be to strengthen the capacity of the global community to address the problem of missing persons, by defining the nature and extent of the challenge and formulating and applying effective strategies to meet it.

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In August the Newsletter highlighted the disappearance and murder of First Nation women in Canada. Amnesty International reported in May that according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at least 1,017 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 1980 and 2012, four and a half times the homicide rate for all other women. In June 2015, the RCMP stated that “while aboriginal women represent just 4.3 percent of Canada’s female population, they represent 16 percent of female homicide victims and 11 percent of missing persons cases involving women.”

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The Newsletter reported in September on a joint initiative by ICMP and IOM to address the issue of thousands of people who have gone missing as a result of the Mediterranean migration crisis. ICMP and IOM have joined forces to conduct a comprehensive assessment with the objective of reinforcing the capacity of countries of arrival to meet their obligations to families of the missing, and exploring avenues for repatriation of the remains of the missing to countries of origin. Through this joint initiative with IOM, ICMP proposes to make a specific, focused and useful contribution to the global effort to address the current migration crisis.

In September the Newsletter also reported that the Director of ICMP’s Forensic Science Department, Dr Thomas Parsons, was awarded the 2015 Scientific Prize by the International Society for Forensic Genetics. Dr Parsons was honored for his signal contribution to genetic science, including his formulation of “the most efficient protocols and interpretation guidelines” for analyzing mitochondrial DNA and maximizing yields when extracting DNA from old and/or degraded bone samples – two of the key elements in human remains identification. The Prize cites Dr. Parsons’ “work in human mitochondrial DNA analysis and the identification of victims of war and disaster.”

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The October Newsletter covered the first Conference of States Parties of the ICMP, which was held on 29 October at the Netherlands Foreign Ministry and chaired by a representative of the United Kingdom. The CSP discussed ICMP’s plan of work through 2018.  Among key activities, in 2016 ICMP will convene the first meeting of the Global Forum, which will bring together policymakers, legal experts, academics, civil society activists and others to advance an international discourse on missing persons. During the three-year period, ICMP will harness new scientific methods to enhance its standing capacity in DNA-based human identification and it will establish a Center of Excellence for Training in The Hague.  It will also expand access to its Identification Data Management System (iDMS) so that it can be utilized online from anywhere in the world.

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In November the Newsletter featured a story on El Salvador’s signing of the ICMP Agreement (Chile, Serbia and Cyprus followed suit in December). ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger noted that this will facilitate ICMP’s capacity to work with the authorities in the country, where as many as 8,000 people are still missing from the conflict of the 1980s.

The November issue also covered a speech given by Queen Noor at the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford, describing the creation and evolution of ICMP and the development of a new international consensus on how to deal with the global challenge of missing persons. Processes and capacities developed by ICMP are now being applied throughout the world. Queen Noor stressed that “the fundamental human rights work of ICMP is not only palliative, it is preventative. The healing and recovery it affords victims, as well as the process of accountability it helps to foster with governments, are absolutely integral to the process of reconciliation, justice and ultimately conflict prevention.”