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Humanitarian action, religious ritual and death

31-12-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 848, by Sylvain Froidevaux

This article describes how humanitarian action and funeral rites should be performed in cases of persons missing and presumed dead, in order to allow their families to begin the grieving process. A comparative table presenting different religions’ funeral rites is included.


Over and above their differences, humanitarian workers and clergy have one point in common: they both come into contact with death and suffering. In such circumstances, however, they each have their own approach. The religious approach is to provide solace for the dying and, later, for the bereaved, through a series of rituals. Humanitarian workers, for their part, are more concerned with tasks such as recovering bodies, informing families of the death of their loved ones and helping them to cope with the consequences. In cases where bodies cannot be recovered (missing persons), both humanitarian action and funeral rites must be adapted in such a way as to relieve the distress of families and enable them to start the grieving process.  

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