Countries in the Middle East Can Account for More Missing Persons By Sharing Experience and Best Practice

The Hague, 1 March 2024: Representatives of ambassadors from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) gathered in The Hague today at a meeting facilitated by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), to address the issue of missing persons in the region.

Chaired by Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister on Political Planning Affairs, Dr. Hisham Al-Alawi, the informal meeting was held in preparation for a Middle East and North Africa regional experts’ meeting on missing persons, which ICMP intends to facilitate in Iraq later in 2024.

Participants were briefed on the upcoming event in Baghdad, the objective of which is to advance cooperation on the issue of the missing among countries in the MENA region by sharing experience and best practice.

Dr. Al-Alawi, a member of ICMP’s Panel of Experts, thanked Germany and the Netherlands for supporting ICMP’s work, and stressed that the planned experts’ conference can support cooperation on an issue “which cuts across national borders and involves a wide variety of disciplines and departments.” He said Iraq’s experience can be useful to other countries, while “developing a coordinated regional approach will benefit stakeholders in each of our countries, including the many different agencies that have responsibility for addressing this issue.”

ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger noted that “In Iraq, the authorities have already made substantial progress, and the relevant ministries are working with ICMP to deploy a centralized database that will make the effort to account for the missing more effective.” She said progress is also being made in Libya, where thousands of migrants trying to reach the Mediterranean coast are missing, as well as thousands of Libyans. “In Syria, the regime has not engaged in any efforts to find missing persons – but Syrian civil society groups are actively working to prepare a missing persons process that can be rolled out quickly when a permanent peace settlement is reached.” ICMP has programs in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

 Germany’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Dr. Cyril Jean Nunn, noted that his country has been a long-time supporter of ICMP, and he drew attention to a joint Pilot Project that ICMP conducted with the Iraqi Ministry of Health in November to collect DNA reference samples from Iraqi Yazidi families of the missing living in Germany. “This was the first project of its kind and it showed the importance of cooperation among governments – in this case between the Iraqi and German governments. It also highlighted the central role of civil society and families of the missing – relatives provided samples and organized outreach activities.”

Noting that the Netherlands, too has been a long-time supporter of ICMP, the Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Guusje Korthals, emphasized that “peace  and recovery depend on an effective process to account for the missing – particularly in the MENA region, where the numbers are extremely high.” She also stressed that the impact of the missing persons issue “goes well beyond one or two countries. It affects stability across the MENA region and beyond. The recent DNA collection program in Germany, and a similar program to collect DNA from Syrian families living in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Luxemburg show very clearly how widespread the issue is in terms of geography.”

 Before meeting at the German Ambassador’s residence, participants at today’s meeting visited ICMP’s Headquarters in The Hague, where they were briefed on ICMP’s mandate and its technical capabilities and programs, particularly focusing on its work in the MENA region.

ICMP staff explained the latest developments in DNA-led human identification and described ICMP activities to assist governments, civil society organizations, and families of the missing in the context of effective missing persons processes in different parts of the world.

The experts’ meeting scheduled to take place later this year in Iraq will bring together representatives from countries across the region that have signed and/or ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), as well as countries where large numbers of migrants are missing.

 

ABOUT ICMP

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure 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.