On 7 July, as part of a series of events to mark the organization’s 20th anniversary, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) formally opened its new headquarters at Koninginnegracht 12 in The Hague. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, Mayor of The Hague Jozias van Aartsen, Her Majesty Queen Noor, ICMP Commission Chair Thomas Miller, , and Norah Fuatham from Uganda and Ram Kumar Bhandari from Nepal, representing associations of families of missing persons from around the world, spoke at the opening ceremony.
The decision to establish headquarters in The Hague is part of ICMP’s long-term evolution, from an ad hoc, blue-ribbon commission established to address a specific component of post-war recovery in the Western Balkans to a treaty-based intergovernmental organization that works throughout the world.
ICMP was founded on 29 June 1996, at the initiative of US President Bill Clinton, to spearhead the effort to account for the 40,000 people who were missing as a result of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Twenty years later, more than 70 percent of those people have been accounted for (including 7,000 of the 8,000 victims of the Srebrenica genocide).
In 2001 ICMP created a standing capacity to use DNA as the first line in conducting large-scale identifications of missing persons. This revolutionized the process and provided scientific evidence of identity that could be used for criminal trial purposes. ICMP also transformed how data is collected, safeguarded and shared in a manner that meets the privacy requirements of families of the missing and the obligation of states to find the missing.
In 2003 ICMP began to operate globally, and today it is active throughout the world, exercising a mandate to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, migration, human rights abuses, disasters, crime and other causes, working with governments to establish legal frameworks, technical capacity and social consensus that makes it possible to launch and sustain effective strategies to account for the missing.
On 15 December 2014 a Framework Agreement was signed in Brussels by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg and Sweden, establishing ICMP as a treaty-based intergovernmental organization. The Agreement has since been signed by Chile, Cyprus, El Salvador and Serbia. It remains open for accession by other states. In October 2015 ICMP signed a Headquarters Agreement with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In his speech at the opening ceremony, Minister Koenders stressed that human rights protection underpins the global effort to account for missing persons. “Establishing the truth of disappearances is not just important to the families of the disappeared, it is also crucial for society as a whole because of the scale and impact of such atrocities,” he said. “Truth-finding should be a national undertaking. And there must be accountability and justice to prevent such acts from happening again.”
The Minister went on to say that promoting human rights “is a cornerstone of Dutch foreign policy.” He said the Netherlands upholds the international legal framework on enforced disappearances, is an active member of the Human Rights Council and has signed and ratified the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
Minister Koenders expressed his government’s full support for ICMP’s efforts to establish a Global Forum on Missing Persons in The Hague. The Global Forum will bring together agencies and international organizations working on different aspects of the missing persons problem
ICMP chose to locate its new headquarters in “the city of peace and justice” because of the proximity of many other international organizations that are active in legal and political fields that affect ICMP’s work. In addition, the Dutch government and the City of The Hague have been proactively supportive. ICMP believes that from The Hague it will be able to supervise its worldwide operations in an optimal way. In due course, it plans to establish a new laboratory and a Center for Excellence and Training in The Hague. Although headquarters staff have moved to the Netherlands, ICMP maintains substantial administrative and laboratory capacity in Sarajevo.
On the same day that the new headquarters were opened, the ICMP Board of Commissioners held its 18th meeting. At their meeting in The Hague the Commissioners, together with ICMP’s directors, discussed ICMP’s evolving role in addressing the global challenge of missing persons and examined ways of securing sustainable funding that will allow ICMP to carry out its mandate wherever it is needed in the world.
The ICMP Board of Commissioners consists of Ambassador (Ret) Thomas Miller, Her Majesty Queen Noor, former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, former Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebæk, former OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, and UK Minister of State for Care and Support Alistair Burt. In June 2016, former Thai Foreign Minister and Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Surin Pitsuwan became ICMP’s newest Commissioner.