Letter of ICMP Director General Kathryne Bomberger on the occasion of the Intl Day of the Disappeared

The 30th of August is increasingly recognized throughout the world as the International Day of the Disappeared. On this day families of persons who have missing loved ones from armed conflicts and violations of human rights seek to draw attention to this issue and to ensure that authorities uphold the legal rights of the families of the disappeared to know the fate and whereabouts of a missing loved one.

The initiative to commemorate this day was taken by the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, which was founded in 1981 in Costa Rica and has since been recognized globally.

Hundreds of thousands of families of missing persons from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Cyprus, Iraq, Spain, Lebanon, Kuwait, Libya, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Nepal, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, Algeria, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Yemen, Somalia, South Africa and many other countries around the world still live in an unending state of trauma and uncertainty. Individuals across the world are often the victims of enforced disappearance only because they belong to the “wrong” nationality, religion, race, class, gender or political group. Resolving missing persons cases is not only important to providing a sense of closure for individual families of the missing, but for the implementation of the rule of law and the establishment of peace and justice in countries affected by this issue.

The disappearance of loved ones has severe consequences on the relatives that are left behind, not least of which is the emotional trauma related to the uncertainty of the fate of a loved one whose disappearance may have been carried out by state actors or others acting on their behalf. The United Nations recognized the severity of this problem when its General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance as resolution 47/133 on December 18, 1992. In addition, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantee family members the right to information concerning the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. Although the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance has been adopted, most countries in the world are not a party to it; in addition, most governments have no domestic legislation that safeguards the rights of families of the missing.

This issue is especially sensitive in post-conflict environments and politically unstable areas, but some countries, notably countries in the Western Balkans, have taken bold steps to address this issue.

These steps include the creation of legislation on missing persons that allow families of the missing to access rights and benefits; the establishment of rule of law institutions to enable governments to search for missing persons in a transparent, accountable and non-discriminatory manner; the use of modern forensic techniques to search for and accurately identify the missing, as well as the enhanced engagement of prosecutors and courts to allow families of the missing to access justice.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, thanks to the efforts of the authorities, the activism of family associations of missing persons, and the support of the international community, the human remains of two thirds of an estimated 30,000 missing persons from the conflicts have been accounted for, which is an unprecedented achievement when compared to other countries around the world.

This year, families from the region, including those from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo decided to jointly mark this important day as a joint commemorative event in Brčko, BiH. The event was organized by family associations of missing persons represented by the Advisory Board of the BiH Missing Persons Institute in order to pay respects to all missing persons regardless of their ethnicity, religion or nationality and to emphasize that the process of locating, recovering and identifying the approximately 14,000 persons missing still from the region (of which approximately 10,000 are missing from BiH) must continue.

The International Commission on Missing Persons joins the families of the missing in commemorating those who went missing from armed conflict and violations of human rights around the world and takes this opportunity to commend the extraordinary achievements of the families who have missing relatives from the conflicts in the Western Balkans in working with their governments to account for the majority of missing persons from the armed conflicts of the 1990’s. In addition, we commend the efforts of the families of the missing from the Western Balkans to jointly honor the memory of all missing persons from the armed conflicts, regardless of their ethnic, religious or national origin.