News release

International Day of the Disappeared: ICRC calls for more effort to establish fate of missing persons from Bougainville Crisis

Port Moresby (ICRC) – More must be done to establish the fate and whereabouts of people who disappeared during the Bougainville Crisis, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said.

The number of families still living with the disappearance of a loved one during the Crisis, which ended in 1998, runs into the hundreds and possibly thousands. Under international law, the obligation to provide information on the whereabouts of missing persons lies clearly with authorities and all former parties to the conflict.

"Disappearances in any conflict cause immense pain, as well as legal, economic and psychological problems," said Fadi Farra, the head of the ICRC's Arawa Office. "According to Bougainvillean tradition, it's vital to be able to bury the deceased on their own land – but so many families on the island still don't know what happened to their loved ones."

The ICRC statement came as families of missing persons across Bougainville prepared to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, an annual event commemorating missing persons worldwide. On the island commemorative events are planned in Arawa, Buka and Buin on 30 August, 31 August and 1 September, respectively.

"We've waited too long to give our loved ones a decent burial," said Chief Peter Garuai, Chairman of the Davoru Besi Family Association in Arawa, which represents families of missing persons in Central Bougainville.

"The people involved need to come forward – whether from the government, the PNG Defense Force or the BRA," Garuai said, referring to the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, which attempted to secure the island's independence from PNG during the Crisis.

Families of missing persons can experience isolation, sadness and marginalisation and often need long-term support in order to overcome these difficulties and regain control of their lives. The disappearance of a loved one may leave the family disadvantaged, as customary land-titles depend to some degree on the proper burial of family members on their land.

The ICRC praised the progress the Autonomous Bougainville Government had made in addressing the issue, following its adoption of a policy on missing persons in 2014.

"We're pleased that the ABG is taking the issue seriously," said Farra. "A Consultative Committee is meeting to consider establishing an Office of the Missing to deal with the question of missing persons, and that has to be a good thing."

The National Government of PNG is in the process of creating its own policy that will complement the process in Bougainville, once approved.

The ICRC is assisting families of missing persons in PNG by supporting the creation of family associations, raising awareness on the subject and advising the authorities in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville and Port Moresby on how to address the issue.

For further information, please contact:

Dan Waites, ICRC Port Moresby, tel. +675 708 80 624
Fadi Farra, ICRC Arawa, tel. +675 721 39 890