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The Missing - The mourning process and commemoration

16-10-2002

This report tackled the issue of the mourning process; the central role that bereavement plays in all cultures and the necessity and rights that relatives of the dead must exercise in order to have ‘closure’ i.e. to complete the process of grieving in order to continue with their own lives.

   

  pdf fileFull summary of the proceedings (PDF file/ 200 Kb - Help)  

The study was carried out by Graduate Institute of Development Studies (IUED), University of Geneva (Switzerland). It was directed by Yvan Droz, doctor in ethnology, with the collaboration of Sylvain Froidevaux, doctor in social sciences.

This report tackled the issue of the mourning process; the central role that bereavement plays in all cultures and the necessity and rights that relatives of the dead must exercise in order to have ‘closure’ i.e. to complete the process of grieving in order to continue with their own lives. Its anthropological approach was supported by contributions from experts around the world, interviews with leaders of the main religious communities and with field workers of humanitarian organizations.

The multiplicity of the practices of funerary and of mourning shows that it is not possible to set general rules. On the other hand some unchanging practices point towards the essential points:

 
 
  • death is always included/understood in a precise culture. Whatever the manner of treating the corpses, these practices obey a ritual which often defines the destiny post-mortem of the deceased. The importance of the funerary practices is crucial: Absence of these rituals can be perilous for both the living and the dead, as well for maintaining the grieving relations between them.

  • while it would be good if it adhered to a " cultural " matrix, funerary rituals vary greatly according to different groups and events. Even within the same culture, a large variety of practices can take shape. To know the customs and habits of group risks the danger to stereotype them. Ethnographic knowledge is therefore not enough. Still one needs to bring together the local reality.

  • not to respect prescribed funerary practices – an all too frequent occurrence in situations of conflict - is a means of “killing” the dead by denying a hypothetical post-mortem. Often it results in ill feeling, which will haunt those who are left behind.

The main recommendations may be summarized as follows:

 

 
  •  To everyone, do not forget:  

  • to propose – and not to impose – assistance and/or relief;

  • to respect the convictions and the privacy of people;

  • to respect symbolic places such as sacred or forbidden areas;

  • the relationship between those who give and those who receive which implies a relationship of power (domination of the first; submission/dependence of the second).

  •  Facilitating bereavement  

The process of bereavement is also a process of rebuilding social structures and it falls to humanitarian organizations to facilitate this process by:

  • collaborating with all of the components that make up society;

  • supporting local groups, in particular women’s groups and the families of the missing;

  • helping families to arrange funerals for their loved ones and enabling them to achieve their grieving;

  • preventing psychological problems that can inhibit the grieving process; managing distress and depression and preventing people from withdra wing into themselves.

  •  Political authorities and belligerents must  

  • guarantee the civilian population the right to grieve and to bury their dead while respecting their personal and religious convictions;

  • acknowledge the seriousness of the practice of mutilation of corpses and lack of respect for the dead;

  • undertake all possible methods in order to recover, identify and return the human remains of persons killed in combat;

  • recognize the specific rights of the families of missing persons as well as victims of violations.