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Missing persons: Action needed

13-04-2004 News Release 04/51

The ICRC has called on the international community to do more to tackle the problem of persons who go missing in connection with armed conflict or internal violence.

Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva on 8 April, the ICRC also appealed for more to be done to help the thousands of families living with the burden of not knowing what has happened to a missing loved one.

The ICRC outlined a number of practical steps designed to prevent the problem from arising in the first place. These include providing soldiers and members of other organized armed groups with identity disks; measures to ensure that persons separated from their families, such as detainees or combatants, can maintain contact with their relatives; and guidelines to help national armed forces, other organized armed groups and humanitarian organizations to properly identify and care for the remains of those killed in armed conflict or internal violence .  

The ICRC also called on governments to strengthen legal measures to deal with the problem. In particular, the organization expressed firm support for the initiative to create a legally binding international instrument to protect people from enforced disappearance. This instrument should set out preventive measures such as official registers detailing the arrest, transfer and release of persons held in detention.

Supporting the families of missing persons should be at the heart of efforts to deal with this tragic problem. The ICRC called on the States to include in their domestic legislation the right of families to know what has happened to relatives unaccounted for in connection with armed conflict and internal violence.

The ICRC president, Jakob Kellenberger, had already drawn attention to the plight of such fam ilies in his speech to the UN Human Rights Commission on 17 March: " As these people tell us, the death of a family member – however painful – can be accepted, but not knowing the fate of a loved one is far worse than almost any other possible experience. The families'suffering and relentless quest for information often lead to their marginalization – with all the consequences that can have on society, not to mention the obstacles placed in the way of peace and reconciliation. "

 For more information please contact:  

 Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 29 30 or ++41 79 217 32 26