9 April 2021 – In an assessment report launched this week during a meeting of the Berlin Process’ International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Working Group, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) examines Libya’s efforts to account for missing persons and recommends action to establish a sustainable and effective missing persons process.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 persons are estimated to be missing in Libya. Prior to 2011, forced disappearances were linked to the regime’s violations of human rights, or were a consequence of wars in which the Libyan regime was involved. Later, widespread violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law, including forced disappearances, resulted in persons going missing. Additionally, an unknown number of persons have gone missing while crossing or departing Libya as part of migratory journeys.
The assessment, conducted by ICMP from October 2020 to January 2021 with the support of the Government of the Netherlands and the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), presents an overview of Libya’s institutional, legal and technical capacities to find missing and disappeared persons. It addresses the issue of mass graves protection and investigations, including in the area of Tarhuna, and recommends actions that would support the establishment of a sustainable missing persons process.
Speakers at the 7 April Working Group event included the founder and chairman of the 2011 National Commission for Search and Identification of Missing Persons, Dr. Othman Mohamed, who is also a former Libyan Minister of Education. He noted that “technical support is needed in all areas of the investigation, including in recording and analyzing data using a shared data system, and the overall DNA-led identification process.”
Azza Kamel Maghur, a Libyan lawyer and human rights advocate whose research contributed to the report, added: “Organized groups of families of the missing and other civil society actors play a unique role in collecting essential information, securing access to information to affected communities, and advancing initiatives to sustain political will for long-term efforts.”
ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said all Libyan institutions whose work is relevant to missing persons need to work together to harmonize their efforts to investigate all missing persons cases in a credible, impartial and transparent manner. Such a joint strategy, which needs to encompass both Libyan and non-Libyan missing persons, is an essential first step toward creating a sustainable missing persons process, she added.
The Dutch Ambassador to Libya, Lars Tummers, called for work on the sensitive issue of missing persons to continue and noted that such work is a way of respecting the rights of the families of the missing. “Families and friends need answers as well as accountability of respective perpetrators,” he said. “There is a clear and immediate need for Libya-led process to search for and identify the missing that is trusted and supported and not partisan, that is technical and based on the rule of law.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Richard Norland, said “Developing a measure of accountability is essential to ending the cycle of violence in Libya. Such efforts are most successful when they work in partnership with civil society to ensure that human rights abuses are documented and that public understanding of transitional justice is increased,” adding that “it is important to find ways to amplify local voices who advocate for accountability for missing persons. These voices need support in their engagement with local authorities and within the accountability mechanisms. These efforts should be Libyan-led, with the support of the international community.”
Suki Nagra, Director of the Human Rights, Transitional Justice and Rule of Law Service at the United Nations Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), who moderated the event, said the report cast light on “a lot of challenges related to coordination, with a plethora of institutions involved. There are challenges related to identification procedures, scarcity of resources, and a lack of an impartial, central secure database.”
ICMP is a treaty-based international organization that seeks to ensure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration, and other causes, and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.