Syrian Civil Society Organizations Call for Action on Missing and Disappeared Persons

The Hague, 23 May 2019:  Syrian organizations participating in a roundtable on the issue of missing persons from the conflict in Syria have highlighted the need to harmonize their efforts to advocate for unified policy positions on the issue of missing and disappeared persons from the Syrian conflict and to build cooperation between families of the missing, regardless of communal or national background.

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) organized the three-day conference at its Headquarters in The Hague this week to provide families and civil society organizations (CSOs) with a forum to articulate their needs and discuss effective advocacy to uphold families’ right to truth, justice and reparation. The roundtable examined the issue of Syrians who have been detained inside the country without access to family or legal representation, the need for an independent, impartial and centralized database that will enable a systematic effort to locate and identify missing persons, the steps that must be taken to support the recovery and identification process that is beginning in northeast Syria, and the steps that can be taken to support states that are hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees so that effective efforts can be undertaken to account for missing relatives of refugees.

The forum also explored initiatives to ensure that the issue of missing and detained persons is incorporated in a future peace agreement and that options are explored to include the issue in a future constitution and create post-conflict mechanisms such as a centralized structure that would locate and identify missing persons, as well as legislation that would secure the rights of families of the missing. The CSOs also expressed support for the recent Swedish proposal to establish a tribunal to prosecute Da’esh fighters for crimes committed in Syria and Iraq.

“Families must play the central role in the process,” Yasmen Almashan of the Caesar Families Association said at the meeting. “It is therefore important that families contribute in a substantive way to the development of policy and its subsequent implementation. There is a willingness on the part of families and civil society organizations to play an active role, and we must identify and develop channels that will allow them to do this effectively.”

ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said that ICMP’s Syria-MENA program, launched in 2017 with the support of the European Union, is working with CSOs and families to develop effective advocacy strategies and to gather information that can be applied as part of a systematic program to account for the missing. She reminded participants that more than half of those surveyed ahead of the European Union’s Brussels III Conference on Syria in March this year 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.

“It is imperative that the issue of the missing is included in peace talks and that appropriate provisions are incorporated in a final peace settlement,” Ms Bomberger said this week. She added that through its Identification Data Management System (iDMS) ICMP is able to assist in the creation of a centralized repository of data relevant to locating and identifying the missing, which ICMP has applied successfully to account for large numbers of missing persons in other parts of the world.

The Head of ICMP’s Syria/MENA program, Lena Alhusseini, said, “It’s very important to work hand in hand with the CSOs to build trust and have a unified voice for families of the missing.”

ICMP plans to organize a series of follow-up roundtable meetings to formulate an agreed set of proposals that families and CSOs can present to policymakers.

Organizations taking part in this week’s roundtable were the Syria Legal Network, the Caesar Families Association, Dawlaty, Families for Freedom, the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, the Free Syrian Lawyers Association, Women Now for Development, the Syria Campaign, NoPhotoZone, Horizon Humanitarian, Lawyers and Doctors for Human Rights, and the Coalition of families of those abducted by IS.

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 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.

ICMP’s Syria-MENA Program is supported by the European Union’s service for Foreign Policy Instruments.