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The Missing - Means to prevent disappearances and to process missing cases


The workshop on finding means to prevent disapperances and to process missing cases was held in Geneva on 24-26 July 2002


  pdf fileFull summary of the proceedings (PDF file/ 657 Kb - Help)  

The workshop was attended by 23 experts from different parts of the world involved with various aspects of the issue of missing people. The range of expertise allowed the issue to be tackled from a number of perspectives. Written cont ributions received prior to the workshop provided valuable input and formed a basis for the discussions.

The workshop covered three main themes:

  • Ensuring protection of a person's physical integrity in order to prevent them becoming unaccounted for during an armed conflict or situation of internal violence;

  • prevention during a situation of armed conflict or internal violence: preserving or restoring family contact;

  • processing of files on people unaccounted for.

Each theme was chaired by a participant who presented the theme in plenary before it was deliberated in a working group. Each group’s findings and recommendations were then presented by a rapporteur in plenary.

The role of the ICRC, apart from organizing the workshop, was to record the proceedings without attribution.

As a primary recommendation, the workshop stressed that existing international humanitarian law (IHL) and human rights law (HR) should be respected and implemented by governments as well as by opposition (armed) groups in all situations under consideration (international armed conflict, non-international armed conflict and other situations of violence). It expressed its strong wish too that both the 1992 UN Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the relevant outcome of the present process be integrated into international binding instruments.

The primary responsibility of authorities and opposition (armed) groups and leaders to take proper measures to prevent persons becoming unaccounted for as well as to clarify the fate of those who have become unaccounted was reaffirmed. The role of international and national governmental and nongovernmental organizations may vary according to the context, from counselling to supplementing authorities, and motivating the community of states for necessary diplomatic pressures.

A number of specific measures aimed at preventing persons from becoming unaccounted for and at clarifying the fate of missing persons were identified. They included the monitoring of persons at risk, the training of families to plan for emergency situations, the unlimited access of humanitarian organizations to persons at risk, the identification and regular visits to all persons deprived of their liberty by the ICRC or other impartial humanitarian organizations, the identification and registration of vulnerable or persons discriminated against, in particular minors, and the implementation of the principle non refoulement .

Among these measures, the right to family news which includes restoring and maintaining communication between family members, was considered as a fundamental right, and should be recognized as such by governments and opposition (armed) groups and leaders. The violation of this right should be recognized as inhumane treatment. Whenever needed this right should be implemented through the Red Cross / Red Crescent family news network which should be supported actively by all actors present in a given si tuation.

Most of these measures imply the collection, use and management of information either on events or on persons. This will allow action on patterns of abuse and in favour of individual persons, to ensure accountability and to establish truthful historical records. The modes of action may vary among the various actors involved according to their mandates and objectives, but should include

  • agreement on common standards regarding the information to collect and its management,

  • the coordination and sharing of information

  • ensuring proper protection of personal data,

  • relying whenever possible on local resources having a good knowledge of the context at all level (political, cultural, etc.),

  • compiling comprehensive and reliable individual files,

  • centralizing personal data used for humanitarian services whenever possible at the ICRC.

Standard checklists (to be adapted to each given context) were discussed and agreed upon . They covered information to be collected on events or persons aimed at protecting persons from becoming unaccounted for and at clarifying the fate of missing persons .

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