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The Missing - Support to families of missing people


The workshop on support to families of people unaccounted for in armed conflict or situations of internal violence was held in Geneva on 10-11 June 2002.



    pdf fileFull summary of the proceedings
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Millions of families around the world face enormous problems resulting from the disappearance of a relative. Whilst they are searching for the whereabouts of the missing person they also face a whole range of needs arising from their specific situation. The purpose of this workshop was to discuss how these particular needs could be addressed and draw up recommendations and best practices acceptable to all those directly involved.

Twenty-five external experts from a variety of countries, including representatives of the families of missing themselves, participated to the workshop. The diversity of expertise enabled the issues to be tackled from different perspectives. 

The workshop recognized the overriding need of families to know the fate of a missing relative. It acknowledged that the primary responsibility for supporting these families lies with the governments concerned, but that the international community has a secondary responsibility of pressuring governments to fulfill their responsibilities and to substitute such assistance when necessary. The workshop addressed 3 main themes, each chaired and moderated by a participant.

 The specific needs of families during hostilities and in the transition period.  

The workshop identified the material or financial, social, psychological and legal needs of families and examined the possibilities and constraints in addressing them. It recognized the importance of family and community involvement at all stages. Assistance should take account of social, economic, political and cultural factors and pay particular attention to children . Organizations should provide improved training and support to their staff to enable them to work in an effective and culturally sensitive way.

 Families and death  

Until there is adequate proof of death, relatives of missing peopl e are not able to mourn. Providing information on death, human remains or personal effects to a family is a delicate matter and requires an understanding of the process of mourning as well as knowledge of the local culture and customs. Staff need special training to carry out this work in a sensitive manner and to protect themselves from secondary traumatization.

 The role of family associations  

The workshop recognized the important role of family associations in representing the families of missing people, providing support to their members and raising issues with the authorities. Such associations frequently operate with limited skills and resources whilst facing severe political and environmental constraints. Support is needed to develop their capabilities and to encourage cooperation between associations. They should do their utmost to safeguard their independence.

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