Accounting for the Missing Is an Investment in Peace

 The Hague, 12 November 2018: In Paris today, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) launched an international initiative to advance the responsibility of States in accounting for all persons who go missing or have disappeared for involuntary reasons. The initiative highlights the eight principles that are enshrined in the ICMP Declaration on the Role of the State in Addressing the Issue of Persons Missing as a Consequence of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Abuse:

  • States have a responsibility to resolve the fate of missing persons
  • Fundamental human rights are invoked when a person goes missing
  • Investigations must be capable of establishing the facts
  • Effective responses require cooperation between states and with international institutions
  • Meaningful investigations ensure that individuals are not denied protections under the law
  • Establishing cause and manner of death is fundamental in upholding the right to the truth
  • All missing persons investigations are potential criminal investigations and must be conducted as such
  • Addressing the issue of missing & disappeared persons must uphold & advance the rule of law

ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger explained the significance of the principles, speaking at an ICMP panel discussion at the Paris Peace Forum. “The dynamic of conflict and the dynamic of the missing persons issue has changed in the last 100 years, and we witnessed a historic shift during the 1990s. What we are launching today is an initiative to apply the principle of states’ responsibility to all cases of missing persons.”

During the discussion, speakers with personal experience offered insights on how countries can organize effective and sustainable programs to account for missing persons.

Falah Hasan Issa Issa, a member of Iraq’s Yezidi community, who has worked in the Middle East and Europe to help those who have been displaced by the conflict in Iraq, highlighted the fact that since the recapture of territory in northern Iraq from ISIS, it has been possible to exhume the dead from mass graves and begin the process of identification but this has not been done because of disagreements among different levels of authority. He also pointed to the issue of children from Yezidi families who were taken by families in the chaos and have not been returned to their parents.

Amra Begic, whose father and grandfather and other family members were killed in the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, spoke of the human response to trauma. She also described the role that ICMP has played in helping to account for the missing and noted that, “organizations that work with families of the missing need resources that allow them to keep on working.” She concluded that “what families of the missing want is justice and to know the fate of their loved ones.”

Mhd Aweiss Al Doboush, who has worked since 2011 to help detainees and families of the missing from Syria and who now documents war crimes at the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, reviewed the huge human cost after almost eight years of conflict. He said that detentions have become a regular occurrence and “detainees may be missing or buried in mass graves,” which places families in an agonizing state of not knowing the truth.

Juan Camilo Tordecilla was has for almost 30 years been actively engaged in the effort to account for the fate of his mother, Amparo Tordecilla, who was abducted in Bogota in 1989, highlighted the importance of utilizing international experience in the effort to account for those who went missing during five decades of conflict in Colombia. He pointed out that while efforts to account for the missing may seem to be expensive, if these efforts are not undertaken, “the price that is paid by society is high, including the loss of confidence in the state and in the government authorities, so we believe the national authorities should make an investment in peace and justice.”

ICMP’s Director of Policy and Cooperation Andreas Kleiser said that in Colombia “the peace accord has created a robust system in terms of institutions to account for missing persons: the concept of state responsibility has particular prominence in the peace agreement. We want to see this same concept more broadly applied not just to human rights abuses and conflict but to all cases where people go missing.”

Kathryne Bomberger conclude by stressing that through its Global Forum, ICMP will seek to make the eight principles applicable across the full range of circumstances in which people go missing. “Accounting for the missing is an investment in peace,” she said, and she added that this effort is part of a global consensus that brings together multiple organizations and government authorities.

ICMP’s Global Forum, which is called for in the ICMP Treaty, is an extended series of public consultations that seeks to encourage the participation of states and others in addressing the issue of missing persons, and brings together officials, civil society organizations and others to examine key aspects of the missing persons process and propose practical and coordinated global strategies.

ICMP’s participation at the Paris Peace Forum was supported by the European Union’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP).

ICMP is a treaty-based international organization with headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from armed 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.