Profiles of the Missing: Call for Coordinated Action To Address Issue of Missing Persons from the Syrian Conflict

The Hague 10 December 2018: Families of missing persons are entitled to solidarity, from governments and others, Her Majesty Queen Noor said today, adding that, as well as solidarity, “they need us to understand the nature of their struggle. We must listen and we must act.”

HM Queen Noor was speaking at a conference on “Syria: Effective Responses” organized at the Representation of the European Commission in Berlin today by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

ICMP’s Syria/MENA Program, launched with EU funding in 2017, is working on a range of activities including collecting personal data from families – a key step toward establishing an effective process that can be expanded after a peace settlement. In Berlin today, ICMP brought representatives of families of the missing, from Syria and elsewhere, together with experts and senior policymakers to examine strategies that families can adopt in order to access their rights to truth, justice and reparations.

ICMP supports the rights of families regardless of the circumstances of the missing person, their ethnic, or religious background, or their role in the conflict.

Welcoming the audience and panelists, the European Union’s Representative in Germany, Richard Kuhnel, noted that “it’s Europe’s responsibility to assist in the important work” of helping governments and civil society to account for the missing.

Hilde Hardeman, Director and Head of Service, Foreign Policy Instruments, at the European Commission, said “the role of ICMP is crucial to support and strengthen the work (of civil society organizations) at the local level.” She noted that at the Brussels III conference on the future of Syria that the European Union will convene in the spring “the fate of the missing will take a central place.”

Citing recent comments by High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, she said that “accounting for the missing is key to the engagement in Syria and elsewhere; it is key to the European Union’s work for transitional justice and accountability. And it is crucial to the future of Syria.”

Rudiger Konig, Director General, Humanitarian Assistance, Crisis Prevention Stabilization and Post Conflict Reconstruction, at the Federal Foreign Office, said Germany is supporting ICMP’s work in relation to the Syrian crisis and in other areas, because “it plays an important role in bringing about peace and justice.” He added that because of its history “in German society, we know what it means if you have missing persons, and how important it is to support other countries and states to help them find those who are missing as a result of conflict and how important this is for a peace and reconciliation.”

Noura Ghazi, an international human rights lawyer and the widow of Bassel Khartabil, a Syrian democracy activist who was detained and executed by the Syrian Regime, stressed that “Detention in Syria is a kind of kidnapping – it’s not an arrest: There is no ‘why’ (grounds for arrest) or ‘who’ (arresting authority), so, families and detainees have no information.” And she added that survivors “have the basic right to say what they need and what they suffered from, what is justice for them.”

Fadwa Mahmoud, an activist and co-founder of Families for Freedom, called on people to “listen to the suffering” of families of the disappeared. “To the Syrian mothers I want to send a message, to the families and the others of Syria, if you can speak, then raise your voice. You have to keep the hope to find our children. We will continue to demand in Syria or in Europe wherever we are because we have the right to know the fate of our loved ones and to see them again.”

Wafa Mustafa, a member of Families for Freedom, said families need to have “a platform, a chance and a time to speak up, to achieve solidarity,” and she said that survivors should not be treated as victims but rather should be accepted as fully integrated members of society.

Anwar Al-Bunni, a Syrian human rights lawyer, said the issue of the missing “must be part of the first step towards any solution if we want to build peace in our society, in our country.”

Kotaiba Al-Mashaan, who left Syria for Turkey in 2015 when his home town, Der Ezzor, was occupied by Da’esh, and is a member of the Caesar Families, said that activists can be a courageous voice in free countries: “Hope is our only choice. Maybe it will take time before we can find a solution; maybe we will die, but our children will continue with this journey.”

Munira Subašić, President of the Association Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves, said families from every community must nite in solidarity. “We learned that we worked more effectively when we worked together, so to the mothers of Syria I say, you have to work together. Only that way, will you succeed.”

Michelle Jarvis, Deputy Head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Persons Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011, said that “We know that if we are proactive in the way we collect and organize evidence that we can work with ICMP and others. We are dependent on coordination with civil society. Together we can do much more. That is the key message.”

Patrick Kroker, from the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), said “any kind of documentation is extremely helpful. The evidence that is being preserved is important for the proof of every single crime. This amounts to crimes against humanity. It doesn’t only identify the person in court it gives voice to a very specific person. Every person who disappears has a family. Through this work being led by civil society, justice isn’t just something technical.”

Mazen Darwish, Founder and Director of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression expressed solidarity with families. “We are with every family member waiting for the return of their loved ones. We are for a lasting peace; we are on the side of human dignity, to find justice, not vengeance.”

“Profiles of the Missing” is an ICMP public forum designed to raise public awareness, make recommendations, and demonstrate to policymakers that the issue of missing persons is an indispensable element in addressing security, conflict-prevention, peace building and international justice. The active participation of surviving relatives is central to the Profiles approach. The Berlin Profiles event was moderated by Yousef Wehbe of the SCM.

The first Profiles event was held in The Hague in 2016 and the second, a year later in Stockholm. On 11 June this year a Profiles event was held in Rome.

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 and identifying missing persons from armed 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.