31 October 2013: A conference hosted by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) started yesterday in the City of The Hague at the Peace Palace. It is the first conference to address the issue of missing persons, regardless of whether they are missing from war, human rights violations, disasters, human trafficking, drug related violence, migration or other causes.
The first panel was dedicated to the issue of persons missing from conflicts and human rights abuses around the globe and was opened by the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice Mr. David Tolbert. Professor Eric Stover from the University of California spoke about enhancing international community efforts to build national capacity to address the issue of persons missing from conflict and human rights abuses. H.E. Mr. Mohammad Shyaa Al-Sudani, Minister of Human Rights of Iraq, and the Minister of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs of Iraq H.E. Mr. Aram Ahmed Mohammed discussed the difficulties in the creation of political momentum to account for missing persons. The challenges in prosecuting perpetrators in missing persons cases were presented by Mr. Manoj Sachdeva and Ms. Fiona McKay of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The former Scottish First Minister Rt. Hon. Lord Jack McConnell reflected on whether accounting for the missing deter or prevent future conflict or human rights abuses. H.E. Mr. Ivo Josipović, President of the Republic of Croatia, provided an insight in the issue of missing persons in the Western Balkans, where over 70% of persons missing from the 1990s armed conflicts have been accounted for. Other notable presentations were given by Mr. Andreas Wigger of the ICRC and Ms. Jasminka Džumhur of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID).
The second panel was dedicated to persons missing from disasters and mass calamities and was opened by Interpol Secretary-General Mr. Ronald K. Noble who called for establishing a permanent structure for Disaster Victim Identification (DVI). The challenges of the South East Asia tsunami were presented by Professor Pongruk Sribanditmongkol from Thailand who led forensic teams there in 2004. The Scientific Director of the German Forensic Science Institute Dr. Ingo Bastisch tackled the challenges in coordinating response mechanisms to assist countries following a disaster. Mr. Frank de Paolo from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the NYC and Ms. Irene O’Sullivan from the Netherlands Forensic Institute reflected on how to ensure improved coordination between international and domestic actors to respond to future disasters.
ICMP Chairman, Ambassador Thomas Miller said during his speech: ”We cannot return to a time when missing persons were not found. We must recognize that the nature of war has changed and that missing persons from conflict share common attributes with human rights abuses, organized violence, including human trafficking and drug related violence. We need to acknowledge that missing persons cases must be properly investigated and that law based mechanisms and modern forensic methods should be employed, so that justice can be done and criminals held to account. We must ensure that families of the missing are actively engaged and that reliable and accurate information is provided to them and we must safeguard their privacy and their rights.”
H.E. Her Majesty Queen Noor said during her speech at the conference: “If this conference strengthens the resolve of States to address the issue of persons missing as a consequence of war – through rule-of-law institutions, processes and methods commensurate with modern standards of human rights and democratic society – it will make a contribution towards a more just future.”