Securing the Rights of Women in the Context of the Issue of Missing Persons


Baghdad, 2 May 2018: Addressing the issue of missing persons is central to consolidating peace in Iraq, the Head of the International Commission for Missing Persons’ (ICMP) Iraq Program, Lena Larsson, said today, adding that since a majority of those who have disappeared are male, a disproportionate number of surviving families of the missing are women who are in many cases single heads of household. “It is critical that their rights to justice, truth and reparations are secured as part of a broader process of ensuring peace and stability,” she said.

Ms Larsson was speaking in Baghdad at the conclusion of a conference on Missing Persons and the Impact on Women, Peace and Security. The conference was jointly organized by ICMP and the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and was intended to highlight the intersection between the issue of missing persons and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

“To date, little attention has been given to the impact of missing persons issues on women, specifically, and on their role in ensuring peace and security in Iraq,” Ms Larsson said, though she noted that in 2014 Iraq became the first country in the Middle East to adopt a National Action Plan on implementing the UN resolution, and that the plan “does address the issue of female heads of household in a patriarchal society and the feminization of poverty as a result of the death or disappearance of men during armed conflict.”

The issue affects women in multiple and profound ways. Many women fear reprisals if they report a missing person. In addition, current procedures that are in place to secure rights are dependent on defining the circumstances of the disappearance of the male members of the family, thus complicating and politicizing the process of securing rights. For example, even when a male missing person is presumed to be dead, access by surviving women to legal documentation, property rights, administrative rights, inheritance, custody, and compensation is hindered by both legal and political obstacles.

Ms Larsson added that where women themselves are missing, they are effectively denied their right to life, to personal status, to freedom from torture, and to freedom from illegal detention. “This directly impacts the social fabric of the family and the greater community, creating an atmosphere of tension and fear, and decreasing the ability of women to participate in peace-building.”

“ICMP’s work with civil society in Iraq is clearly relevant to the Resolution,” she said. “Women are missing due to targeted campaigns during armed conflict. Due to societal and cultural stigmatization, the family may choose not to report or discuss the fact that a woman is missing, in effect negating her existence. Women have been disappeared by family or community members as a way of ‘washing away disgrace,’ particularly after sexual violence perpetrated during armed conflict, and large numbers of men have gone missing, leaving behind female-headed households.”

Speakers at today’s conference included the US Minister Counselor for Political Affairs in Iraq, Ms. Sylvia Curran, the Director-General of the Women’s Empowerment Directorate, Dr. Ibtisam Aziz, the Head of the Minor’s Care Department within the Ministry of Justice, Ms. Hind Jumeg, and the Director General of the High Council for Women’s Affairs from the Kurdistan Regional Government, Ms. Amel Jalal Mohammed, as well as representatives of civil society organizations concerned with missing persons and women’s rights.

Attendees of the conference included Members of Parliament and representatives from the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, the High Commission for Human Rights, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Migration and Displaced, and the Martyrs Foundation, as well as representatives from United Nations and European Union Missions in Iraq and other senior diplomats.