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Northern Ireland: The missing – a pain that persists

26-11-2013 Feature

The fate of those who are abducted and murdered during armed conflict is a source of acute suffering for families and communities around the world. On 25 November the ICRC co-hosted a roundtable with Queens University Belfast to discuss those who remain missing from the conflict in Northern Ireland.


The speakers at the roundtable.
© ICRC / Kelvin Boyes

In Northern Ireland the missing, or disappeared as they are known, are a legacy of the violence that afflicted communities for nearly four decades and continues to cause suffering today.

The official list of the disappeared numbers 16 individuals who were killed and secretly buried by republican paramilitary organizations in Northern Ireland between the 1970s and 1998. Nine bodies have been found but for seven families the inability to lay their loved ones to rest is a torment that does not pass with time.

However,  in Northern Ireland there are two organizations which offer hope and support to those suffering from the pain of not knowing.

Geoff Loane with Anne Morgan at Queens University Belfast 

Geoff Loane with Anne Morgan.
© ICRC / Kelvin Boyes

 The first is the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains (ICLVR) which carries out investigative, forensic and practical work and the second is the victims’ organization WAVE Trauma Centre which offers solidarity, support and compassion for families.

ICLVR Consultant Geoff Knupfer says his organization carries out “recovery and repatriation, no questions asked”. It was established in 1999 by parallel laws passed in both Britain and Ireland. This legislation gives immunity to those providing information to the Commission which might lead to the discovery of a body.


Queens University Belfast

© ICRC / Kelvin Boyes

The ICLVR actively seeks such information and uses these details to search for answers. Through this approach the Commission has been able to reunite some families with the remains of their loved one. However, it remains an exhaustive and exhausting process that requires collaboration from those with answers to yield results.

Through the work of  WAVE families of the disappeared come together to remember, to support one another in their grief and fight for the right to know where their loved ones are buried.

The plight of the missing and their families is a humanitarian problem which requires a dignified and timely response from those who have information. It demands the attention and action of all those who have the ability to bring respite or relief.


The ICLVR carries out investigative, forensic and practical work to try to locate the remains of the missing.

In Northern Ireland the International Committee of the Red Cross supports the work of the ICLVR and brings to the attention of key groups and individuals the importance of resolving the remaining cases as quickly as possible.

The event in Belfast brought together ICLVR, WAVE and leading academics to discuss ways to move forward with the remaining missing cases. ICRC UK and Ireland head of mission Geoff Loane was joined on the panel by Geoff Knupfer of ICLVR and Professor Monica McWilliams from the Transitional Justice Institute at the University of Ulster. The discussion was chaired by Professor Colin Harvey of the Queens University Law School.