The Missing Persons Issue is a Human Rights Issue

The Hague, 10 December 2017: As Human Rights Day is marked around the world today, hundreds of thousands of families of missing persons will continue to endure the agony of not knowing the fate of a loved one.

The challenge of addressing missing and disappeared persons is both a consequence and a cause of widespread distrust in public institutions in many parts of the world. The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) sets out to rebuild or reinforce the credibility and capabilities of domestic and other authorities to instill and sustain trust by upholding fundamental human rights guarantees, including:

  • the right to dignity and to life,
  • the right to effective investigations concerning the missing,
  • the right not to be subjected to torture or degrading treatment,
  • the right to a family life and to privacy, and
  • the right to recognition as a person before the law.

“Addressing the issue of missing persons is key to upholding the rule of law and preventing systemic and egregious human rights violations,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today. “When people go missing, governments are legally bound to uphold the rights of survivors to the truth, to justice and to reparations. In many scenarios around the world today, these legal obligations are not fully met and sometimes disregarded entirely.”

“The failure of governments to uphold the rights of families of the missing has a direct and deeply damaging impact on global peace and stability. When large numbers of persons are unaccounted for, social and political stability are undermined,” Ms Bomberger continued.ICMP’s country and regional programs vary in scope and complexity and are initiated on the basis of clearly articulated requests by civil society and/or governments. Among current programs, ICMP is helping stakeholders in Colombia’s peace agreement to implement a systematic and effective missing persons process based on the rule of law. In Mexico, it is working with human rights organizations to develop comprehensive database on missing persons, a model that could be deployed elsewhere in the country. In Iraq, it is providing training and assisting in field operations and working to develop a legal and institutional framework within which the missing persons issue can be addressed effectively. Elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa region, ICMP is working with partner organizations to empower families of the missing. In the Western Balkans, ICMP has spearheaded an effort that has made it possible to account for more than 70 percent of the 40,000 who were missing at the end of the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, which is the most successful post-conflict model in the world.

During 2017, ICMP launched its Mediterranean Missing Migrants Initiative, which addresses fundamental violations of human rights among migrants, who are vulnerable to people trafficking and also to actions on the part of governments that may fail to implement legal obligations towards migrants.

ICMP is also working with international and domestic criminal tribunals, providing testimony and other evidence in trials for war crimes, human rights abuses and genocide.