Bojana Djokanovic considers the impact of renewed support in November and December 2016 for ICMP from key government partners.
The problem of missing and disappeared persons has intensified over the last two decades for a variety of reasons including climate change, migration, organized crime, and political instability in some parts of the world. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) is the only intergovernmental organization tasked exclusively to work on this issue.
In November and December 2016, a number of donor governments renewed their support for ICMP’s global effort to help states address the challenge of large numbers of missing persons. The Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands made a financial contribution of one million euros to support ICMP’s global operations and to enable its transition to new headquarters in The Hague; the British Government made a commitment to provide ICMP with up to one million pounds to support its global operations; and the German Government provided assistance for an ICMP project to help the authorities in Colombia design and implement measures to account for missing persons following the peace agreement that ended more than five decades of conflict.
This funding will help ICMP to operate its cross-cutting programs – the Institution and Civil Society Development Program, the Science and Technology Program, the Data Systems Program, the Justice Sector Assistance Program, and the Center for Excellence and Training Program.
Through these programs, ICMP helps governments throughout the world build rule-of-law institutions that successfully and impartially search for and identify missing persons, and develop legislation to enable families of the missing to assert their rights. ICMP assists authorities in using advanced forensic techniques, including modern DNA methods, to locate and identify missing persons, and it maintains the world’s only non-profit, high throughput standing capacity to conduct large-scale, DNA-led human identification. It also responds to requests for documentation and expert testimony from international and domestic courts on matters related to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other crimes under international law.
ICMP attained a new international legal status when a Treaty signed by The Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg at the end of 2014 was ratified in the course of 2015 by the parliaments of the States Parties. The Treaty has since been signed by Chile, Cyprus, El Salvador, and Serbia and is open for accession by all states. In 2016, ICMP formally opened its new headquarters in The Hague, as mandated under the Treaty. ICMP is now developing its capacity to meet the demands of its new role. Among other things, it intends to establish new laboratory facilities in the Netherlands that will incorporate the next generation of DNA technology related to human identification.
The Kingdom of the Netherlands has supported ICMP for twenty years in its successful effort to help the authorities in the Western Balkans locate tens of thousands of persons missing as a result of the conflict in the 1990s. The UK has, likewise, been among ICMP’s most consistent donors since the organization was founded.
Germany’s support will enable ICMP to help the authorities in Colombia implement a systematic and effective missing persons process based on the rule of law. ICMP is specifically tasked under the Peace Agreement to do this. In the first phase of the program, ICMP will assess challenges in the process of setting up institutional measures to account for missing persons, analyze recommendations that have been put forward by national authorities, victims, civil society organizations and international organizations, and provide the relevant authorities with a roadmap of policy actions to implement these recommendations.
As ICMP expands its activities under its new global mandate, the need for effective, systematic and timely action becomes ever more apparent. In Europe, there has been a significant rise in the number of missing persons, and thousands are going missing on the dangerous journey from conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East. Thousands are also going missing on migration routes from South and Central America to the United States, and on routes in South Asia. At the same time, countries such as Colombia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Iraq and Libya, to name just a few, are contending with missing persons cases that number from tens of thousands to more than a million.
The issue of missing persons is a global challenge and it must be addressed as such by the international community. The governments of Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have shown that they are well aware of this problem and are taking practical steps to address it. In addition to this most recent support provided towards ICMP’s cross-cutting programs, the governments of the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom are also continuous supporters of ICMP’s activities in Iraq. ICMP will work closely with these and other donors to ensure that their contribution is fully recognized and that it is utilized in the most effective way.