Iraqi Road Map on Missing Persons Issues

5 May 2015: Representatives of family associations and government ministries, along with legal experts and civil society activists came together in Baghdad and Erbil this week to explore ways of facilitating an effective, fair and modern missing persons process.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) organized the roundtable meetings (29 and 30 April in Baghdad, and 3 and 4 May in Erbil) as part of an extended consultation on a sustainable missing persons process that can realistically be developed amid severe political and security challenges in Iraq.

At the opening roundtable session in the Parliament Building in Baghdad on 29 April, Speaker of the Parliament Salim Al-Jabouri called on participants to draft a “road map” on accounting for missing persons through legal and judicial means.

Dr. Al-Jabouri expressed his appreciation for the role ICMP has played in helping the Iraqi authorities address the issue of missing person. He called for the Law on Mass Graves to be amended in order to include all cases of missing persons, and he called on the authorities to support efforts to eliminate problems experienced by families of the missing when they try to access their rights, for example, regarding inheritance.

Participants at both roundtables discussed the importance of implementing the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which Iraq ratified in 2010, and the need for Iraq to access international conventions and other instruments that will help develop a realistic and effective missing persons policy.

The meeting in Erbil explored ways of coordinating the work of agencies responsible for dealing with missing persons, in the Parliament and Government of Kurdistan and with the authorities in Baghdad, in order to ensure that the missing can be located and accounted for in every part of the country.

ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger stressed that the issue of the missing should not become “a silent issue” that breeds hatred. “Having a pragmatic response to a highly emotional issue is a good way of depoliticizing it,” she said.

Among other proposals, participants at the roundtables discussed the establishment of a common database in which information on missing persons could be listed comprehensively. Bomberger said a web-based database would allow families to record and access information online, a system that ICMP already operates in other countries. Such a database would help to eliminate efforts to distort the truth about missing persons, she said, “and when you have a central record, families of the missing can do many things, for example a woman with a missing husband can finally begin the process of accessing her rights.”

ICMP has been engaged in Iraq since 2003; among other things, it has trained more than 500 Iraqi technicians in methods to locate and document missing persons cases, including the use of advanced archeological, anthropological and DNA identification methods, and it has worked with Iraqi institutions and civil society to enhance the missing persons process.

ICMP will draft a series of recommendations reflecting the roundtable discussions, with a view to developing constructive policy proposals that can be presented to the authorities.