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Libya: thousands search for missing relatives

28-08-2012 News Footage Ref. AV031N

As Libya recovers from last year's conflict, wounds remain raw. On the international day of the disappeared, thousands of Libyan families still have no news of relatives missing because of the conflict or the actions of the former regime.

  • Footage available from the ICRC Video Newsroom
  • Transmitted worldwide on Eurovision News Exchange, 28 August 19:30 GMT

For more information, please contact Nicola Fell, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 32 82, e-mail

Ossama's search for his father

A year ago, as fighting raged in Tripoli, Ossama Al Haloj's father disappeared. Ossama and his family searched everywhere. "We found this picture on YouTube showing three bodies. That's him. He's wearing the clothes he was wearing when he left home."

From clues such as a bullet mark in the wall and the colour of the pavement, Ossama concluded that his father died during the battle for Bab Al-Aziziya. Witnesses living nearby confirmed they saw Ossama's father killed, along with others.

"This is where he was shot, in the head," said Ossama.

The person suspected of killing Ossama's father has recently been arrested but the search for his father's body continues. Ossama says: "Of course, it's important to know where his remains are, so we can go and visit his grave and anyway, just to know."

Sumaya and Awatif search for their three brothers

Sisters Soumaya and Awatif Bin Jabr are also desperately looking for missing family members. 

Around the time that Ossama's father was killed, a suspected mass grave at last became accessible, where over 1,200 prisoners disappeared in Abu Salim prison in 1996. Soumaya and Awatif suspect their three brothers were among those killed. 

For 12 years, until 2008, they lived with the hope their brothers were still alive. Awatif explains the agony of not knowing: "There's a difference when a body is handed to you after a death, and you know it is the person and you accept his death and mourn. But it's different when they take him away, imprison him, kill and bury him and you don’t know really what happened – this really hurts." 

In 2008, the family was given a death certificate that they believe was fake, with false causes of death. None of the families of the missing prisoners have ever received the remains and there are many gruesome rumours about what happened to the bodies: The two sisters are doing all they can to obtain their brother's remains. "What we're asking for is their bodies," says Soumaya, "so we can bury them in accordance with Islamic law, near us, so we can visit their graves." 

The ICRC and missing persons

ICRC protection coordinator Laurent Saugy says families from all sides of the conflict are affected: "Libya went through several events where people went missing, disappeared, were arrested or died and families simply do not know. They do not have the means to reach closure. It is not only a question of a legal obligation; it is a question of humanity."

Without a death certificate or a body, tens of thousands of people are unable to move on, remarry, claim an inheritance or simply conduct a funeral.

Under international humanitarian law, families of missing persons have the right to know what has happened to them. The ICRC continues to support the Ministry for the Affairs of Martyrs' Families and Missing Persons to find out what happened to people who went missing. It provides advice, training and operational support for the recovery and identification of human remains.

The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent organization with an exclusively humanitarian mandate: to protect the lives and dignity of people affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance. And "protecting dignity" includes protecting the dignity of the deceased.

The ICRC is not involved in political or religious activities of any kind, in Libya or anywhere else. It operates in 80 countries around the world.

SHOTLIST

0:00 Wide Tripoli
0:04 Various of rubble and damaged buildings
0:17 Ossama at site of photo – finds a bullet
SOUNDBITE Ossama Al Haloj (in Arabic)
0:43 The bullet mark in the wall – you can film it – and you can see it on the photo.
1:00 "We found this picture on YouTube showing three dead bodies. That's him. He's wearing the clothes he was wearing when he left home. 
1:36 This is where he was shot, in the head
1:39 CU photo
1:45 Abu Salim prison
1:48 Sisters walking outside prison
1:55 Paintings on prison wall of prisoners being killed
1:58 Pan of prison
2:03 Sisters enter prison
2:08 CU of sisters faces
2:12 Various of sisters standing below cells
2:25 SOUNDBITE Awatif Bin Jabr (in Arabic)
"There's a difference when a body is handed to you after a death, and you know it is the person and you accept his death and mourn. But [starts crying] it's different when they take him away, imprison him, kill and bury him and you don’t know what really happened – this really hurts." 
2:45 Cells through hole in wall
2:49 SOUNDBITE Soumaya Bin Jabr (in Arabic)
"What we're asking for is their bodies so we can bury them in accordance with Islamic law, near us, so we can visit their graves." 
3:09 Cell walls
3:13 Women walking out of cells
2:17 SOUNDBITE Laurent Saugy, ICRC protection coordinator (in English)
"Libya went through several events where relatives went missing, disappeared, were arrested or died during the conflict and families simply do not know. They do not have the means to reach closure.
3:36 It's thousands of missing therefore many more relatives who are in despair.
3:44 It is not only a question of legal obligation, legal right to know, it is a humane question."
3:54 END

For further information, please contact:
Soaade Messoudi, ICRC Tripoli, tel: + 881 622 435 156 / + 218 913 066 198
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: + 41 79 536 92 50 / + 41 22 730 20 11


  • Copyright: ICRC access all
  • Release year: 2012
  • Production locations: Libya
  • Running time: 3'54 min.
  • Languages available: English, French, Arabic
  • Reference: AV031N

Format: Mpeg2 / 16:9 anamorphic / SD