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Sri Lanka : ICRC asked to help solve missing persons issue

09-01-2003 News Release 03/3

Geneva (ICRC) – During the last round of peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the parties agreed to ask the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to help them set up an independent verification mechanism to ascertain the fate of persons unaccounted for in connection with the conflict, a task which the ICRC has expressed its willingness to take on.

Under international humanitarian law, all warring parties must respect the right of families to find out what has become of relatives who went missing during the hostilities and carry out whatever research is required for this.

Acting as a neutral intermediary between the families and the relevant authorities (Sri Lanka security forces or LTTE), the ICRC has been active since 1990 in helping people obtain information on the whereabouts of their missing loved ones.

Over the last 12 years, the organization has been approached by the families of over 20,000 civilians and combatants of whom they have no news. After receiving tracing requests providing details on these persons, it systematically submits their names to the authorities in order to obtain information on what has become of them. Some 11,000 tracing requests are still unresolved, about 2,200 of which concern persons who have been confirmed missing. The organization is currently working on the remaining 8,800 requests and will continue its tracing work in the country until all the families are provided with an answer.

The ICRC is increasingly concerned about the fate of persons unaccounted for in connection with armed conflict and internal violence throughout the world and the anguish this causes their families. It is deeply committed to heightening awareness of this issue among governments, the military, national and international organizations – including the worldwide Red Cross and Red Crescent network – and the general public.

To that end, the ICRC is planning to hold an international conference of governmental and non-governmental experts on the issue of missing p ersons in Geneva in February 2003.

 Further information: Dana Lissy, ICRC Colombo, tel. 00941 503 346  

 Eros Bosisio, ICRC Geneva, tel. 004122 730 2101 or mobile 004179 217 3264