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International conference on The Missing: ICRC closing statement

21-02-2003 Statement

by Mr Jacques Forster, vice-president, ICRC

Mr Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the ICRC decided to convene this conference on missing persons and to moderate the meetings leading up to it, it knew full well that it was tackling an important but thorny issue, one that has an overwhelmingly humanitarian dimension, but that also touches on a number of sensitive matters that are politically or legally controversial, or simply technically complex. It therefore gives the ICRC great satisfaction indeed to observe that the past three days can attest to a rich and almost unique debate between the families concerned, professionals from the field of forensic medicine, humanitarian practitioners, human rights defenders and political leaders.

As our deliberations come to a close, I am convinced that each of us has obtained a better understanding of the suffering endured by those who are without news of their loved ones. I am also convinced that we are aware that more decisive action must be taken to prevent disappearances during armed conflicts and in situations of internal violence. Our conclusions further confirm the moral, legal and political obligation to ascertain the fate of those who are, unfortunately, missing and to provide support to their families.

Each of us is also surely more aware that these are ambitious and complex objectives. They require the commitment of all those concerned: the authorities directly involved, the community of States, regional and international intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, and of course the ICRC, and with it the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. All must work in the service of, or at least side-by-side with, the families of missing persons.

To be effective, our commitment must be based on legal rules, and we must all agree to and support this position: we must ensure respect for existing rules, identify loopholes in the law and pinpoint what rules, if any, need to be developed internationally and nationally. Our commitment must be coordinated. It implies shared and complementary working methods. It requires that each and every one of us be unbending in the implementation of ethical and professional practices. It also requires that adequate means, in particular financial resources, be made available.

Each of us must see in the observations and recommendations adopted by the Conference today the need for decisive political, legal and operational action. Indeed, the commitment we make today, by identifying the issues that remain to be resolved and many means of doing so, has specific consequences.

The ICRC has thought about this throughout the process leading up to this conference. It has already established new internal operational guidelines for preventing disappearances, clarifying the fate of those who are missing as a result of an armed conflict or situation of internal violence, and providing support for the families. The guidelines were drawn up in the light of the ICRC’s specific mandate and reflect the recommendations and best operational practices outlined in the summary report on the conclusions of the events preceding the conference. ICRC/TheMissing/01.2003/EN/10 They are being implemented in ICRC field operations and put forward in the regional and international fora in which the ICRC participates. They are also gradually being incorporated into training programmes for ICRC staff.

Outside its walls, the ICRC will continue to emphasize, in international, regional and national fora, the essential role of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in preventing disappearances, clar ifying the fate of missing people and reinforcing the families’ rights to information and support.

It goes without saying that we would like to be joined in our efforts by as many as possible of those concerned by persons who are missing as a result of armed conflict or internal violence, and that we are convinced that only by coordinating our efforts will we be able to answer the urgent questions raised by the families, to alleviate their suffering or at least ease their worry, and to save more lives. The ICRC will nevertheless also continue its own work, taking action and mobilizing its humanitarian partners.

In December of this year, the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent will bring together, in this very place, all the States party to the Geneva Conventions, the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and a large number of observers who are interested or involved in humanitarian action. The Conference will pursue our examination of the measures needed to prevent disappearances and provide support to the families of missing persons. We will therefore have the opportunity, beyond this conference of experts, to highlight and recall the priorities for action by governments and humanitarian organizations.

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you can see, the ICRC is determined to continue and to enhance its activities to prevent disappearances, to ascertain the fate of missing persons and to provide support to their families. It wishes to do this in coordination with all those involved. The ICRC calls on the governments and armed groups concerned, on regional and international governmental organizations and on non-governmental organizations to act towards the same end.

For my part, it is my hope and indeed my belief that continued joint efforts such as those made during these three days of intense work will make a significant contribution to re solving this most serious issue. I speak for the ICRC when I say that I am convinced that a humanitarian mobilization of this kind will bear fruit and mitigate the suffering of the families of missing persons and, what is more, will help reduce the number of persons unaccounted for, and, I hope, one day eliminate them entirely!

Thank you, Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, for your commitment to pursue your efforts and activities to that common end.