International Day of the Disappeared: “Governments have an Obligation to Account for the Missing”

The Hague, 28 August 2017: On Wednesday, on the occasion of International Day of the Disappeared, families of the missing in every part of the world will seek to highlight the plight of relatives who have disappeared as a consequence of conflict, natural disasters, crime, irregular migration and other causes. Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), urged authorities in countries addressing the issue of large numbers of missing persons to work with families of the missing in order to implement sustainable strategies based on the rule of law.

“Governments have a binding obligation under law to do everything in their power to account for missing persons and to support the right of families to truth, justice and reparation.” Bomberger said. She stressed that families do not seek the support of governments as a favor but as a right, and that they must be empowered to contribute to and monitor the efforts of authorities to account for the disappeared: “Families must be at the center of every effort to account for missing persons.”

In Iraq, family organizations working with ICMP will organize events on Wednesday in Halabja, Nasiryah, Sulaymaniyah, Samawa, Mutthana, Dohuk, and Baghdad. ICMP will also participate in events with partner organizations in other countries where it has major programs, among the Syrian Diaspora, in Colombia, and the Western Balkans, and it will join organizations in The Hague, where ICMP has its headquarters, to mark International Day of the Disappeared.

Bomberger stressed that the issue of missing persons represents a global challenge. In Iraq, the number of those who have gone missing in recent decades may be as high as a million. The conflict in Syria is generating a daily toll of disappearances; Colombia, Mexico and Sri Lanka are dealing with the legacy of tens of thousands of missing persons. Meanwhile, desperate migrants are being lost every day in the Mediterranean as they seek refuge from violence and instability in the Middle East and Africa. The migration routes from South America to the US and from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand and Malaysia are also fatal.

The issue of missing persons is not one that is exclusive to developing countries or to countries that are experiencing conflict. Following Hurricane Katrina, for example, in 2005, under an agreement with the State of Louisiana, ICMP helped identify victims in a period when technical resources in the US were stretched by the magnitude of the event. In June 2009, ICMP signed a disaster victim identification agreement with the authorities in Denmark which complements the country’s existing disaster-management capacity, and today, ICMP has engaged with governments in Europe to help identify unregistered migrants who have died in transit.

Nor are the possibilities of identification limited by the passage of time: in August this year, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office announced that the remains of a man killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 had been identified nearly 16 years after the terror attacks.

“International Day of the Disappeared is an occasion to remind governments of their obligations,” Bomberger said, “but it’s also an occasion to highlight the key fact that there are practical and effective strategies for locating and identifying large numbers of people, and these are strategies that governments can and should implement.”

About ICMP

Since 1996, ICMP has shown that accounting for large numbers of missing persons can be done efficiently and effectively through a coordinated rule-of-law strategy that brings together legislative and judicial measures , state-of-the-art forensic science and civil society involvement. ICMP’s mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from 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.

About the International Day of the Disappeared

In 1981, the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of the Disappeared-Detainees (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos – FEDEFAM) initiated the commemoration of what is now officially recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of the Disappeared, 30 August.