EU Brussels Conference on Syria Discusses Missing Persons Issue

The Hague, 14 March 2019: More than half of those surveyed during an EU Consultation on Syria said the issue of missing persons, including victims of enforced disappearance and detainees, is the most important topic in the field of justice and cohesion, Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), told participants at a major conference on Syria convened by the European Union in Brussels this week.

Ms Bomberger was speaking on a panel on Justice and Social Cohesion at the European Parliament. She noted that the Consultation undertaken by the EU ahead of the conference, had concluded, among other things, that communities in Syria must be made aware of their legal rights and the legal tools they can use to defend their interests, and that accountability must be kept on the political agenda.

“There are upwards of 80,000 persons missing in the Syrian context, including those missing from the previous regime, and from the current conflict, as well as adults and children who have died or disappeared along migratory routes or have been victims of trafficking,” Ms Bomberger said. “A majority of those missing are men, which means that women and children make up the majority of survivors – this is an important factor in terms of securing rights.”

She said the 8,000 detainee death certificates issued by the regime “create a real challenge in that there is no way to verify these documents, which are important for reclaiming rights – such as property and inheritance; furthermore the death certificates contain no information regarding the circumstances in which the person died, which in turn diminishes accountability.”

Ms Bomberger said the Consultation had highlighted the need for families to be at the center of efforts to account for the missing and she said measures must be undertaken to deal with the existence of mass and clandestine graves.

Stressing “the remarkable desire” on the part of participants in the Consultation “to ensure that all victims or survivors of the conflict should have equal access to justice, truth and economic reparations”, Ms Bomberger called on states hosting Syrian displaced persons, migrants or refugees to support efforts to address the issue of missing persons in the Syria context. She said they could do this “by allowing families of the missing to provide data to a centralized system, allowing protection of that data, and engaging in other measures to help these communities who have missing loved ones”. She said Inter-governmental organizations, such as the ICMP, can help host states to address this challenge.

She said this was critical to upholding the rights of survivors and she added that “a future Syrian state must assume responsibility for finding all missing persons in an impartial and transparent manner that secures the rights of all surviving families of the missing,” she concluded.

Ms Bomberger spoke at the panel on Justice and Social Cohesion on Wednesday and participated in the presentation of conference conclusions to the EU Foreign Ministers’ conference today.

ICMP’s Syrian/MENA program is supported by the European Union’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments.