The Hague, 15 March 2021 – A staggering number of persons are missing due to the Syrian conflict, and more people are disappearing as the conflict continues unabated. Ten years after the war erupted, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) reiterated that immediate action is needed to find missing persons and secure the human rights of families of the missing.
With the families of Syria’s missing persons scattered around the globe – many live as refugees in neighbouring countries, in Europe or elsewhere, while others remain in war-torn Syria – the issue of Syria’s missing is a global challenge that demands international attention and action.
A 2021 UN report estimates that 100,000 persons are missing due to the conflict. In addition, the country has a legacy of missing and disappeared persons cases linked to human rights abuses and other causes that occurred prior to the decade-long conflict, and Syrians who have fled the fighting have gone missing along migratory routes.
“Finding missing persons from the Syrian conflict requires a long-term, coordinated effort,” said ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger. “Immediate measures to be carried out now, while conflict is still raging, are required, as are parallel efforts to build a sustainable process for a post-conflict Syria. Actions needed include creating an impartial, centralized data system that contains data on missing persons collected from families of the missing, and information on the location of mass graves and clandestine sites. Such a system is needed to prepare for a concerted effort to find the missing to be launched as soon as the conflict ends. In addition, Syrian families of the missing, Syrian civil society, the international community and others need to work together to develop a common strategic plan.”
A 2020 report that summarizes a series of ICMP-facilitated Policy Process discussions with Syrian civil society organizations (CSOs) and families notes that they “want assurances that a future constitution will guarantee and protect the right to effective investigations and ensure that perpetrators are held to account.”
The organizations and families taking part in the policy process made a series of recommendations, including the establishment of a group to coordinate and develop recommendations for a policy framework for a future missing person process in Syria. Earlier this year, ICMP facilitated the establishment of a Syrian Policy Coordination Group that comprises 25 Syrian relatives of missing persons, legal experts, human rights defenders, members of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, and civil society representatives residing inside and outside Syria.
The report also notes that “an official, comprehensive central database will be a key tool that must be available to post-conflict justice and related institutions responsible for accounting for missing persons and for investigating the circumstances of their disappearance.” A growing data repository held on ICMP’s secure servers so far contains more than 18,000 records on missing Syrians, submitted by their relatives or collected by Syrian CSOs in partnership with ICMP. Such central data repositories to manage, analyse and secure vast amounts of information have proven to be key to successful missing persons programs.
ICMP launched its Syria Program in 2016 with support from the European Union. The program works to lay the foundations for an effective process to address the issue of the missing, and to help Syrian families of the missing, with special focus on those now headed by women, so that they can form support networks and develop the resilience and understanding needed to drive the process of locating the missing.
ICMP supports CSOs working on the issue of Syria’s missing in many ways, including through grants to strengthen their skills and develop advocacy material and agreements under which they collect data on missing persons and their families and add this to a the ICMP-held repository on Syrian missing persons. ICMP also is working to help first responders who locate missing persons in northeast Syria strengthen their skills.
ICMP’s Syria/MENA program is financed by the European Union, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.
ICMP is a treaty-based international organization that seeks to ensure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, migration, and other causes, and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing.