The International Day of the Disappeared

“Forcibly Disappeared and Missing Persons is a Continuing Global Problem”

ICMP Appeals to States to Join the Convention on Enforced Disappearance

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) would like to use the opportunity of the International Day of the Disappeared to note that the issue of missing persons from armed conflict, crimes against humanity and violations of human rights continues to be a global problem. ICMP appeals to States to join the Convention on Enforced Disappearance and to take responsibility for locating and identifying missing persons, for building appropriate rule of law institutions to search for the missing and to respect the rights of families of the missing, including the right to information regarding the fate of a missing relative.  

At commemorations on the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared, the Director-General of ICMP, Kathryne Bomberger, noted that, “missing persons are a powerful symbol of a failure to safeguard individual rights and to uphold the rule of law. They are a constant reminder of human vulnerability and exposure to arbitrariness. They contribute to maintaining an atmosphere of mistrust that so often defines the fragility of societies emerging from conflict and strife. Seeking answers in each individual missing persons case is important, therefore, as is addressing the problem at the aggregate level of society, where it adversely affects the credibility and prospects of political, democratic and rule of law institutions.”

Ms. Bomberger added that “Family members have a right to information concerning the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, a right that is anchored in the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as it is also affirmed by Resolution 7/28 of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and by other human rights instruments, as well as in international humanitarian law during armed conflict.”

“There are few countries in the world that are not affected by the issue of disappearances or missing persons.  Some countries, notably countries in the region of the Western Balkans, Latin America and South East Asia have taken steps to address this issue.  Iraq has taken on bold initiatives seeking to account for up to one million missing persons,” she continued. “These initiatives include the creation of legislation on missing persons that allow families of the missing access to 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 with access to justice.”

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. Enforced disappearances have occurred across the world and are still a common practice by some regimes and in instable or war-affected regions.

As part of its mandate, ICMP seeks to secure the co-operation of governments and other authorities in locating and identifying persons missing as a result of armed conflicts, other hostilities or violations of human rights and to assist them in doing so. ICMP pioneered the use of DNA technology to identify large numbers of missing persons. Today ICMP has helped scientifically identify 18,000 missing persons and its database houses 150,000 genetic samples relative to missing persons in over 20 countries.

ICMP also contributes to institutional reform and provides assistance to judicial institutions. It works with civil society organizations, encourages public involvement in its activities, and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tributes to the missing. 

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the governmental institution Missing Persons Institute (MPI), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) are organizing a series of events to commemorate this important day. With over two thirds of its approximately 30,000 missing persons accounted for, BiH provides a hope for other countries too that the issue of missing persons can be successfully dealt with. Bosnia is the first country to pass a dedicated Law on Missing Persons in 2004.