The Hague, 23 June 2022: Implementing a systematic process to account for missing and disappeared persons in Syria must be a central element in peace negotiations and can contribute to peace implementation in a fundamental way, participants at a meeting of the Policy Coordination Group (PCG) said this week.
Meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in The Hague, the PCG, a Syrian-led initiative on the missing and disappeared facilitated by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), discussed a policy paper on mass graves.
ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said the missing persons process must be understood in the context of rebuilding Syrian society after decades of dictatorship and more than a decade of conflict. She said the PCG policy paper on mass graves, as well as other documents produced by the group, could drive fundamental change after a peace settlement, in terms of accountability, transparency and respect for the rule of law.
“Mass graves continue to be uncovered in Syria,” Ms Bomberger said. “Identifying victims and establishing the circumstances of death are fundamental to upholding the rule of law and helping families to access their right to truth, justice and reparations.”
The PCG policy paper proposes legal provisions to ensure proper handling and protection of mass graves. Participants discussed international initiatives related to excavating such graves and handling evidence, as well as the legislation that would be required to address this issue in Syria after a peace settlement. Legislation would support the identification of unidentified human remains and make it possible to collect evidence for future prosecutions
Nael Georges, ICMP’s PCG Facilitator and Researcher, highlighted the importance of ensuring that future Syrian legislation is consistent with international standards and that constitutional provisions address the issue of the missing and disappeared. He said locating mass graves and exhuming and identifying victims “is essential for families and for Syrian society as a whole,” and “determining circumstances of death is crucial for the implementation of transitional justice.”
During the meeting, participants also discussed the need to engage in effective advocacy to ensure that the issue of missing persons is dealt with in an appropriate way in the context of efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict. Among other things, participants agreed to renew efforts to disseminate and explain the detailed policy papers that are being produced by the PCG. To date, the PCG has released an Ethical Charter on Data Collection and Documentation, a UPR submission to the UN Human Rights Council, a Proposed Constitutional Principles paper, and a Legislations paper on missing persons. The PCG will be discussing the accountability for enforced disappearances, amnesty laws, and responsibility of states towards the missing in future meetings.
This week’s meeting, held in-person in The Hague, is the ninth PCG session since the group was established following a conference organized by ICMP in February 2020. The PCG has 27 members, including Syrian family associations, civil society organizations, legal and human rights defenders, and international advisors. It aims to develop broad recommendations and a policy framework for a future Syrian missing persons process, including purpose-specific legislation and institutions.
More than 130,000 people are believed to be missing as a result of the conflict in Syria. In addition, the country has a legacy of missing and disappeared persons cases linked to human rights abuses and other causes prior to the conflict, and thousands of Syrians who have fled the fighting have gone missing along migratory routes. The PCG will continue its activities during the upcoming months to develop further papers.
ICMP’s assistance to the PCG is funded by the European Union (EU) through the support it provides to ICMP’s Syria/MENA program. The PCG is part of ICMP’s strategy to help lay the foundations for a sustainable missing persons process for Syria. ICMP is actively engaged in creating a central data repository of missing persons from Syria. To date, ICMP has collected data from more than 60,000 Syrian families of the missing, including genetic reference samples for DNA testing and matching.
ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.