Profiles of the Missing

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8 July 2016: At an event organized by the International Commission on Missing Persons in The Hague today, family members of missing persons from around the world described how they joined forces with others who had suffered the same trauma, in order to seek the truth about the fate of their loved ones.

“It is complex to live with ambiguous loss,” said Ram Kumar Bhandari from Nepal, whose father was arrested by police in December 2001 and has not been seen since. “It’s now been 15 years: this is a long, long wait.”

Ram, who has taken the case of his father’s disappearance through the courts, described how he suffered harassment when he sought legal redress. “We are fighting against injustice, to repair society: we are not following a path to revenge. We see the perpetrators posing in the media and leading the issues form the government side. We have been fighting against impunity. Truth is important, the objective truth, the social truth, and the forensic truth. It’s very important for closure, for final rituals. We will never forget.”

“We mothers have been waiting for 20 years,” said Munira Subasic from Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose husband and son and 20 other family members were killed in July 1995 in the Srebrenica genocide. “We have been searching for justice. The biggest injustice is to be waiting for justice. In 1995 we were left all alone. In order to learn the truth about the fate of our loved ones we established an NGO where all the mothers got together. We raised children who were left without parents, we raised them to be healthy adults, none of them ever sought vengeance; our children are friends with children whose fathers are murderers. We know that when a man falls ill he can be cured, but hatred is something you can never get cured of.”

“We’ve protested, marched, worked with experts, the government is not helping us,” said Blanca Luz Nava Velez from Mexico, whose son was one of the 43 students who were forcibly disappeared in September 2014 in Guerrero state. “I am the wife of a farm worker, our destiny wasn’t to stage marches, but as a mother I always told my son the difference between right and wrong and that is why I’m so angry. Why was he taken away? Why did the government not protect us?”

Other speakers at the event were Norah Fuathum from Uganda, whose oldest son was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army; Ali Aillele from Syria, whose brother was arrested by government forces in February 2012 and has not been seen since; and Dennis Schouten from The Netherlands, whose brother-in-law was among the 283 passen­gers and 15 crew on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which was hit by a missile over Ukraine in July 2014.

All of the panelists have actively lobbied the authorities to establish the circumstances of their loved ones’ disappearance and take steps to find and prosecute those who were responsible.

ICMP Commissioners HM Queen Noor, Tom Miller, Wim Kok, Knut Vollebaek and Alistair Burt also participated at Profiles of the Missing, along with ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger. The conference was part of a series of events organized to mark ICMP’s 20th anniversary. The organization was founded in 1996 to spearhead the effort to account for the 40,000 people who were missing as a result of the conflict in former Yugoslavia. It revolutionized the use of DNA-led identification techniques and developed database systems to collect, safeguard and share information on missing persons. In 2003 it began operating throughout the world. In 2015 ICMP moved its headquarters from Sarajevo to The Hague. On Thursday evening, it formally opened its new headquarters in The Hague at a ceremony attended by Foreign Minister Bert Koenders and City of The Hague Mayor Jozias van Aartsen.