New Initiative to Find Missing Persons in Iraq

6 February 2015: Senior government officials and legal experts from Iraq completed a three-day seminar in The Hague today that focused on the use of forensic evidence in court-led processes regarding mass graves and missing persons.

The seminar brought together legal experts from domestic and international courts to assess and strengthen the capacity of the Iraqi justice system to address the issue of the missing effectively, and to formulate specific recommendations for legal reforms that will facilitate progress in this area.

The seminar was organized as part of an initiative of the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights (MHR).

The seminar examined ways of

  • developing the standing of forensic evidence within Iraqi law to enable it to serve as primary evidence;
  • strengthening the role of prosecutors regarding the collection of forensic evidence;
  • harmonizing the Law on Mass Graves, the Law on Forensics (amended 2013) concerning the Medical Legal Institute, and criminal procedure law;
  • examining legal protections for subjects of forensic data; and
  • clarifying human rights standards within the domestic legal regime, including applicable Sharia law. The initiative is designed to contribute to a long-term process that will improve inter-agency coordination by allocating clearly defined responsibilities for missing persons.

ICMP staff first went to Iraq in 2003 to assess the provision of assistance, and began working with Iraqi institutions in 2005. ICMP established an office in Baghdad in 2008 and in Erbil in 2010. It has helped the Iraqi government draft a law on the protection of mass graves, and in 2006 it assisted and advised the Iraqi government on acceding to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.  In 2012, ICMP, the MHR, the Ministry of Health (through the Medico-Legal Institute), and the KRG Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs signed an MoU which called, among other things, for a concerted effort to address the mass graves issue in a systematic way, including targeted DNA reference sample collection and corresponding field reconnaissance and excavation work. A primary objective of the MoU was to ensure improved cooperation among the multiple institutions tasked to work on this issue. In 2012, ICMP instituted the creation of an inter-agency expert group that included the signatories of the MoU.

The current fighting in large parts of Iraq means that the number of missing persons is rising rapidly, adding to a figure that may already have been as high as one million following years of dictatorship, war and internal conflict. It is therefore essential that this issue is tackled – today in those parts of Iraq where this is possible, and in the rest of the country when circumstances improve.