The Hague, 31 May 2021 – A new International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) campaign titled Act in their Absence encourages Syrians to report missing persons to the ICMP’s Online Inquiry Center (OIC) as part of efforts to help find Syria’s missing. Families located anywhere in the world can use the OIC, and Europe-based Syrian families with missing relatives will this summer be invited to provide genetic reference samples to assist in locating missing persons and reuniting families.
The project activities are conducted by ICMP, with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, more than 100,000 persons have gone missing, according to a 2021 UN report. Syrians and others have gone missing due to atrocities committed as part of the ongoing fighting, human rights violations, including summary executions, enforced disappearances, kidnapping, arbitrary detention and other crimes. Many have also disappeared along migratory routes to Europe. While most Syrian refugees sought protection in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, about 1 million Syrian asylum seekers and refugees live in Europe.
ICMP, an international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons, is collecting information on missing persons to establish an impartial, centralized repository that includes all cases related to the Syrian context, including persons suspected to be in detention. Reports are sought for all missing and disappeared persons regardless of their sectarian or national background, gender, ethnic or religious background, their role in the conflict, political affiliation, the circumstances of disappearance, or any other factor, including those believed to be alive and those feared dead.
Central repositories are key in addressing large and complex missing persons scenarios, and building such a resource for the Syrian context lays the foundation for a sustainable post-conflict process to account for the missing in an impartial, credible and transparent manner, and to secure the rights of the families of the missing to justice, truth and reparations.
“Family members can take action in their loved ones’ absence: they can report their missing persons to ICMP,” said ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger. “Filing a report increases the chance that the missing one day can be found, though there is no guarantee.”
ICMP collects information about the missing person, about the person filing the report, and about possible locations where missing persons may be found.
So far, ICMP has received reports on almost 20,000 missing persons related to the Syrian context filed by 50,000 family members, either directly via the ICMP’s OIC or with support from civil society organizations that work with ICMP. In addition, ICMP’s repository also contains information about the location of more than 50 sites in Syria where missing persons may be located, including mass and clandestine graves.
Data shared with ICMP is kept confidential and is protected by international law. It is only used for the purposes specified by those who filed the report, and ICMP shares it with third parties only with the explicit agreement of those who shared the data.
A central data repository played a key role in ICMP’s efforts to support countries in the Western Balkans to account for the 40,000 persons who were missing following the 1990s conflict in the former Yugoslavia. So far, 70 percent of those missing have been accounted for, and work continues.
ICMP’s broader efforts to address the issue of missing persons in the context of the Syrian conflict include facilitating dialogue among stakeholders, including a thorough policy process discussion, summarized in an October 2020 ICMP report. ICMP also facilitates the work of a Syrian Policy Coordination Group that is working to develop recommendations and a general policy framework on missing persons in Syria.
ICMP is a treaty-based international organization that seeks to ensure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration, and other causes, and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.