In 2012, according to estimates made by the Government of Libya, up to 10,000 persons were unaccounted for. This included persons missing as a result of the 2011 conflict, as well as those who went missing during Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year rule, including in the 1977 war with Egypt, the 1979 war with Uganda, wars with Chad in the 1980s, and in the Abu Salim prison massacre in Tripoli in 1996. In addition, persons are missing from more recent events – these include victims found in 2020 in mass and clandestine graves in Tarhuna and other areas, as well as migrants traveling to Europe and other locations.
Libya’s first Commission dealing with the missing persons issue was established after the end of the conflict in 2011. At the end of that year, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) created the Ministry for the Affairs of the Families of Martyrs and the Missing (MAFMM) to handle the missing persons issue and dissolved the Commission.
In 2012, Libya invited ICMP to assist in its efforts to build a sustainable process to find all missing persons, including those missing from the 2011 conflict. ICMP established a program in late 2012 and supported the country in line with an agreement with the Government of Libya until 2014, when the deteriorating security situation forced an end to the program’s work.
The program focused on helping Libya develop institutional, legislative and technical capacity to impartially account for missing persons in line with the rule of law, including by developing the capacities of the MAFMM and other state institutions engaged in the issue of the missing.
ICMP trained Libyan experts, including more than 50 MAFMM staff, in forensic archaeology, anthropology, pathology, DNA reference sample collection and post-mortem sampling procedures. Training on personal data processing, including DNA profiling, matching, and reporting, also was held, with a focus on data protection standards.
As part of work to support legal reforms, ICMP assisted the authorities in developing legal measures to safeguard the rights of families of the missing and initiating the establishment of the Libya Identification Center to support the country’s efforts to coordinate the domestic missing persons process and international assistance efforts.
The program also sought to advance the engagement of families of the missing in data collection efforts conducted by the Libyan authorities with ICMP support, and it helped authorities introduce an online missing persons’ search tool through which families can register missing persons and DNA reference donor contact information.
With ICMP assistance, over 11,000 genetic reference samples representing over 2,500 missing persons were collected from families of the missing. This enabled authorities to identify 150 persons, including Dr. Mansour Rashid Kikhia, a former Libyan Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United Nations who later opposed the Gaddafi regime and disappeared in Egypt in 1993. His remains were found in Libya.
Despite ending its in-country presence in 2014 due to the security situation, ICMP continued to provide support. In 2015 and 2016, ICMP trained Libyan legal experts, civil society activists and government representatives to enable them to improve court-led processes on mass graves and missing persons. The training aimed to expand the use of forensic evidence in missing persons investigations and to clarify inter-institutional responsibilities and legal obligations to family members of the missing.
In late 2020, ICMP was asked to assess Libya’s missing persons process, including its institutional, legal and technical capacities to address the issue of disappeared and other missing persons, as part of a project that aims to lay the foundations for a sustainable process to account for missing persons.