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Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms

17-11-2003 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 58th session, Third Committee, item 117 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, New York, 17 November 2003

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross the floor.

Last year the ICRC was given the opportunity to highlight, before this body, a grave problem associated with armed conflict and internal violence – missing persons. " No one disappears alone " was the cry of a representative of a missing person's family association. Thousands of families around the globe undergo severe mental agony for uncertain periods of time, not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones. As these relatives recount, the death of a family member, however painful, can be accepted - but not knowing their fate is very different from any other experience that one may encounter in a lifetime. The trauma endured cannot be described in words. The families'suffering and relentless quest for information often leads to their social marginalization, with all the consequences that this may have on the society's fabric, its economy, not to mention the obstacles it puts on the road to peace and reconciliation. In view of the upcoming International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, we would like today to provide a brief update on our efforts to better address this problem and on our objectives for the future.

It will be recalled that the ICRC had decided to first launch a broad consultative and analytical process related to missing persons. This initial phase, which comprised eight workshops and three studies, was carried out with the involvement of academic institutions and numerous experts. It resulted in a set of practical recommendations on legal and operational matters designed to help prevent disappearances, ascertain the fate of missing pers ons and assist their families.

In a second stage the ICRC organized an international conference of experts, in Geneva from 19 to 21 February 2003, which provided an opportunity to share the outcome of this work and to further explore the scale, diversity, and complexity of the problem. A wide array of participants, including family members of missing persons, politicians, military personnel, human rights activists, forensic scientists and humanitarian organizations, spent three days engaged in a rich and often moving dialogue. The central point was that something must be done to address a problem that goes well beyond the emotional issues related to disappearances.

The upcoming 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, which gathers not only Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies but also the 191 Governments of the States parties to the Geneva Conventions, provides an important opportunity to trigger more effective action. The issue of persons missing in connection with armed conflict or internal strife and of assisting their families is one of the four humanitarian concerns addressed in the draft " Agenda for Humanitarian Action " to be adopted. It includes all main goals and actions identified through the February experts'conference and its preparatory work.

Convinced that more can and must be done, the ICRC will pledge at this December's Conference to strengthen its own operational practices. It will further strengthen work with relevant authorities and organizations, notably to:

  • implement and whenever necessary enhance the framework and guidelines/best-practices based on the results of the International Experts Conference and on the Agenda for Humanitarian Action to be adopted by the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, in order to resolve problems linke d to missing persons ;

  • encourage forensic specialists to define standards and guidelines for the collection, exhumation and identification of human remains ;

  • contribute to the creation of international mechanisms to support and assist affected families ; and

  • reinforce the network of tracing services of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The ICRC will also contribute to strengthening international and domestic law which serves to protect persons from becoming unaccounted for, to ascertain the fate of missing persons and to sustain the right of families to know the fate of their relatives.

The ICRC calls on all Member States to commit themselves to taking appropriate action to prevent and resolve these problems, bring response to the families of missing, participate in this pledge. It thanks them in advance for their support.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.