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61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – Statement on the missing

12-04-2005 Statement

The ICRC renewed its commitment to promote the implementation of the Agenda for Humanitarian Action adopted at the last 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and of the related best practices. To this end, it has drawn up a plan of action for the years ahead that is being implemented progressively.

Mr. Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

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

Last year the ICRC President was given the opportunity to highlight, before this body, the action taken by the ICRC regarding a grave problem associated with armed conflict and internal violence – the issue of missing persons and of their families.

It will be recalled that the ICRC convened, in February 2003, a conference of governmental and non-governmental experts in Geneva on missing persons and their families. The participants affirmed the magnitude of the problem and adopted a set of recommendations aimed at preventing and resolving cases of disappearances as well as responding to the needs of families left behind.

The 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2003, comprising not only the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies but also all States parties to the Geneva Conventions, confirmed its commitment to these objectives. Adopting by consensus the Agenda for Humanitarian Action, conference participants undertook to " Respect and restore the dignity of persons missing as a result of armed conflicts or other situations of armed violence and of their families " and so to implement various measures to this end. A report on the measures carried out will be submitted to the next International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

For its part, in conformity with its commitment, the ICRC is reinforcing, wherever necessary, its traditional activities, such as re-establishing and maintaining family links, collecting and centralizing information on vulnerable persons and on the dead, and tracing persons when their families are without news of them. Within the bounds of its mandate and sharing its own experience, it participates in mechanisms designed to address these issues effectively.

In addition, the ICRC is very much aware that the issue of missing persons is also a serious consequence of natural disasters. In this framework, following the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Asia, the ICRC has launched, with the cooperation of all concerned Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, a major action to restore contacts between family members, to clarify the fate of those missing and to support scattered and remaining family members. It includes the provision of satellite phone services, a dedicated WEB site, the exchange of family news through Red Cross messages as well as family reunifications.

Lastly, the ICRC seeks to promote among all relevant actors the implementation of the Agenda for Humanitarian Action adopted at the last 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and of the related best practices. To this end, it has drawn up a plan of action for the years ahead that is being implemented progressively.

The plan includes in particular the promotion of existing international law, the development of legal guidelines for non-international armed conflict, and support to the development of a new international instrument to effectively protect persons from enforced disappearances. On this last topic, the ICRC stresses the importance it attaches to the work of the Human Rights Commission Working Group in charge of drafting an international instrument on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. It will continue to follow carefully this process and to share its views based on its experience in the field. The ICRC's objective will remain to assist in the development of an effective instrument to prevent enforced disappearances.

The plan of action that the ICRC intends to implement also includes activities in the following areas:
 
 

  • Support for the enhancement of domestic law;

  • Cooperation with armed forces and regional military organizations, and facilitating contacts between them, in order to ensure, for instance, the wearing by military personnel of identification means, their regular exchange of news with their families, and the proper handling of information on the dead and of human remains on the battlefield;

  • Enhancement of family news networks and capacities to manage information;

  • Promotion of standards regarding the proper handling of the dead, for use by non-professionals, such as staff from humanitarian organizations, and by forensic professionals;

  • Promotion of guidelines regarding the specific needs of families and the means to support them.

Mr. Chairman, the above serves to illustrate the magnitude of the challenge before us. The ICRC thus calls upon all Member States, in coordination with their National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, to actively follow up on this Agenda for Humanitarian Action in order to prevent and resolve the occurrence of missing persons, to better respond to their families, as well as to support ICRC activities to this end. It thanks them in advance for their support.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.