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Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms - Questions of enforced or involuntary disappearances

12-11-2002 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 57th session, Third Committee, item 109(b) of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 12 November 2002

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor. We would like to briefly highlight a grave problem frequently associated with armed conflict, namely that of missing persons, and to share with representatives of Member States information on the process which the Committee has launched to address the situation.

Uncertainty about the fate of their loved ones is a harsh reality for countless families affected by armed conflicts and situations of internal violence. Across the world, parents, spouses and children are desperately trying to find lost relatives. Their anxiety can remain with them for years after the fighting has subsided and peace returned. Many are unable to move on with their lives or begin the process of recovery, sometimes passing on feelings of injustice and resentment to future generations, thus undermining relations between groups and nations even decades after the actual events.

Action must be taken. Governments should take the lead, backed, where required, by humanitarian and human rights organisations to prevent persons from going missing and to deal with the consequences. Acting on the basis of the mandate conferred on it by the international community, the ICRC has for many years sought to prevent disappearances, to restore family ties when they have been broken, and to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing.

Yet in many contexts, the ICRC has been unable to fulfil its mandate, for lack of sufficient political will on the part of the parties concerned, or simply because of generalised confusion and disruption prevailing in societies affected by conflict.

The ICRC accordingly has resolved to launch a process of reflection with those concerned. It decided to conduct it in two initial stages. The first phase has been devoted to gathering and analysing information on a select number of topics, in close cooperation with  academic institutions and some 120 governmental and non-governmental experts. The topics reviewed cover protection work and restoration of family links, management of human remains, support for the families of missing persons, collection and management of personal data, and mechanisms for handling cases of missing persons. For each of these topics, needs of those affected, constraints and ways to address them were pointed out, and recommendations and best practices were formulated. A report containing the findings of this process should be ready by the end of January 2003.

For the second stage, the ICRC is organising an international conference, bringing together a broad spectrum of Governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, research institutions and individual experts. The Conference is due to take place from 19 to 21 February 2003 in Geneva. Naturally, it is the ICRC’s wish that the outcome of the conference be of direct use to the political and humanitarian actors working in situations of armed conflict and internal violence. It therefore hopes that all those involved will devote to the forthcoming conference the attention it rightly deserves, commensurate with the importance of the problems to be addressed. For its part, the Committee is determined to pursue and develop its activities to prevent disappearances and enable families to learn the fate of their relatives.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.