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International Day of the Disappeared: helping families in their quest to find out what happened

28-08-2012 News Release 12/174

Geneva (ICRC) – The families of countless people all over the world who went missing in connection with armed conflict and other emergencies are enduring painful uncertainty as they remain without news of their loved ones.

While the authorities concerned have an obligation under international humanitarian law to do everything in their power to determine what happened to those who went missing, a greater commitment needs to be made to help the families of the missing overcome the difficulties confronting them in their daily lives, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said today in the run-up to the International Day of the Disappeared, 30 August.

"The scars that war leaves on relatives of missing persons and their communities are deep," said Marianne Pecassou, who heads the activities carried out by the ICRC for the families of missing persons. "People who don't know whether those who have vanished are alive or dead are leading lives of uncertainty. In some cases, they have been waiting for decades, and it often happens that they suffer from emotional and social isolation. Sometimes, they're even shunned as bearers of bad luck, and women can be stigmatized because they are left without the protection of a male family member."

Importantly, the families themselves often find ways, with or without help, to overcome these challenges, such as by bringing people together to honour the memory of missing persons, or by performing alternative death rituals. By keeping their missing relatives present in their hearts and minds, the families ensure that they do not disappear entirely.

In Libya, where large numbers of people have gone missing, including many who may have been arrested or died during the recent conflict, thousands of families still do not know what became of their relatives. "Providing them with information on the fate of their loved ones is not only a legal obligation, it's a matter of humanity," said Laurent Saugy, who coordinates ICRC activities in Libya relating to the missing persons issue.

In dozens of contexts worldwide, the ICRC is providing support for the efforts of the authorities to account for those who went missing during armed conflict. In Georgia and Nepal, it is backing support networks that help the families of missing people meet a variety of needs encompassing social, emotional and economic challenges. In addition, the ICRC encourages the authorities and civil society to support the families in their efforts to meet the challenges they face.

Gatherings and other events planned to take place on 30 August or on other dates in several places throughout the world (in Lebanon, Nepal and East Timor, for example) will help keep alive the memory of those who are still missing. That in turn will help the families cope with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. The events also provide a way to share grief and a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the issue.

"No matter how much time has passed, the authorities must to do everything in their power to throw light on what happened to those who went missing and to provide the families with any information they obtain," said Ms Pecassou. "Meanwhile, it is urgent to give the families the support they need to deal with everyday challenges and live decently."


For further information, please contact:
Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18

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