The Issue of Missing Persons Demands a Global Solution

Well over 2,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean in 2015 and untold numbers have perished crossing the Sahara en route to ports in Libya and elsewhere. The statistics on missing migrants constitute a horrific backdrop to activities organized to mark the International Day of the Disappeared.

And the numbers of those who go missing on dangerous migration routes – across the Mexican-US border, for example, or south from the Bay of Bengal – are dwarfed by the numbers of those who are disappearing in parts of Central Africa, in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other conflict zones, not to mention the thousands who are victims of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings as a result of repressive government or paramilitary policies.

“The International Day of the Disappeared is an appropriate occasion on which to recall that the issue of missing persons represents a global challenge that requires a global solution,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said in a statement issued today. “As governments around the world struggle to come to terms with missing persons crises it is essential that the issue is addressed in a way that focuses on strategic and institutional solutions.”

Ms Bomberger stressed that “whether a person is missing from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters or other causes, it is a complex issue that entails securing the rights of families of the missing,” and she added that as the only international organization exclusively dedicated to accounting for the missing, ICMP is working with governments, civil society organizations, justice institutions, international organizations and others throughout the world to tackle the problem in a comprehensive way, including through legal and political initiatives.

Established in 1996 to help the relevant authorities account for the 40,000 people reported missing at the end of the conflict in former Yugoslavia, ICMP has led an effort that has resulted in more than 70 percent of these missing persons being accounted for. This is an achievement unsurpassed anywhere.

Since 2003 ICMP has been active beyond the Western Balkans, and today it is working to develop institutions and civil society capacity, promote legislation, foster social and political advocacy, and develop and provide technical expertise to locate and identify the missing in every part of the world.

Since moving its headquarters from Sarajevo to The Hague this summer, ICMP has begun preparations for a Global Forum on Missing Persons, which will bring together policymakers, legal experts, academics, civil society activists and others to share expertise and coordinate activities. It is also establishing an Interagency Committee on Missing Persons in The Hague that will include representatives from international organizations and others, to facilitate cooperation in addressing missing persons cases from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters and other causes.

“The Mediterranean migration crisis has clearly demonstrated the need for effective coordination by multiple agencies,” Ms Bomberger said. “This will be a key step forward in resolving some of the challenges that have been highlighted today in events to mark the International Day of the Disappeared.”