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The Missing Conference - Daily bulletin no 3


Geneva, 20 February 2003


 Second day of the conference  

The general debate continued in the morning plenary. The working group on the final outcome continued throughout the day.

 Four expert panels  

During Thursday afternoon four expert panels met. A report on their work will be presented to the plenary session on Friday.

  •  Panel on families and their need to know the fate of their relatives  

This panel met under the chairmanship of Habib Nassar, vice-president of the Committee of Families of Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon. Asta Maria Zinbo, director for civil society initiatives at the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) acted as rapporteur.

The objective of the panel was to demonstrate that families of missing people are often confronted with specific problems associated with uncertainty regarding the fate of their relatives, which need to be addressed.

 The panel divided its work into two main subjects:  

  •  The psychological impact of the uncertainty about the fate of a missing relative and the related socio-economic consequences.  

Families that remain without news of their relatives are themselves victims. They suffer from psychological problems and at the same time must face social, economic and legal problems that compound the other problems that all victims of armed conflict and internal violence live with.

  •  The need for the families of missing persons to receive credible information on the death of their relatives in order to facilitate their mourning process and come to terms with their loss.  

In many cases the lack of information on missing people is the result of the fact that the death was not registered. For this reason the collection of information on death should be more systematic. This is the responsibility of the authorities but in situations where they are unable to do this humanitarian organizations should deal with this problem from the start of an armed conflict or a situation of internal violence.

ICRC/T. Gassmann ref/CER-E-00033
  Panel on the collection, exhumation and identification of human remains 

  •  Panel on the collection, exhumation and identification of human remains  

The panel met under the chairmanship of Professor Eric Stover, director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of California. Roberto Ricci from the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights acted as rapporteur.

The objective of the panel was to demonstrate the importance of a standard framework for action in relation to collection, exhumation and identification of human remains.

 The panel's work was divided into several subjects, most notably:  

  •  An autopsy protocol and identification of human remains  

State authorities and armed groups are responsible in the first instance for the handling of human remains. As a rule only forensic experts should handle the dead and all actors should recognize the role of such specialists as well as the need for a framework that includes standard guidelines and protocols relating to exhumation, autopsies and identification.

Those working on a definition of a standard framework should consider standard ante mortem and autopsy protocols, standard software for the management of ante mortem and post mortem data, the combination of means needed for an identification and guidelines for the exhumation of graves. Methods used should be appropriate to the context.

  •  Involvement of the community and families in the exhumation of human remains  

The association of communities and families should be appropriate to the situation and encourage social reconstruction and reconciliation in the community. Procedures for handing over human remains are also an issue as is the communications strategy adopted towards the families, communities and public in general

Single heads of families and unaccompanied children merit special attention.

The network of family associations has an important role to play particularly in providing collective support, promoting the role of the families as protagonists as well as victims, and in putting pressure on the authorities.

  •  Panel on members of armed forces and armed groups: identification and information bureaux.  

This panel met under the chairmanship of Brigadier General Titus K. Githiora, chief of legal services at the Kenyan defence department. Lieutenant Colonel N. Nobbs, Rear Support Command, ACE Rapid Reaction Corps headquarters acted as rapporteur.

The objective was to demonstrate the importance of identification means for the members of armed forces and armed groups and of the Information Bureau to prevent perso ns from becoming unaccounted for.

 The panel examined two subjects:  

  •  Identification means and, in particular, identification discs as a minimum: the provision of, use of and respect for identification discs.  

The identification of members of the armed forces or armed groups is essential to prevent disappearances in armed conflict or situations of internal violence. Adequate identification contributes in a crucial way to facilitating the search for missing people. All armed forces and armed groups should supply their members with means of identification:

- personal details

- identity cards

- and identity tags – as an absolute minimum

  •  The Information Bureau: in armed conflict or internal violence the collection, processing and transmission of information.  

All possible measures should be taken to supply to the relevant authorities, or to the family, information on the date and place of capture. Each party to a conflict must set up an information bureau to centralize all the information on the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, as well as people deprived of their liberty and the dead. All such information should be sent to the relevant authorities or to the family via a neutral intermediary, and to the Central Tracing Agency of the ICRC.


  •  Panel on mechanisms to solve issues on people unaccounted for  

The panel met under the chairmanship of Ravi Nair, executive director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (India). Javier Ciurlizza Contreas, executive secretary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Peru acted as rapporteur. The objective of the panel was to demonstrate the importance of multiple mechanisms, for example in the humanitarian, political, judicial and non-judicial fields, to cover the whole range of needs of missing people, their families and communities.

 The panel examined a series of subjects:  

  •  The possibilities and limits of existing mechanisms and ways to enhance them.  

The primary responsibility to provide information on missing people lies with state authorities and armed groups. Mechanism should always be independent and impartial.

  •  Tension and complementarity between judicial and non-judicial mechanism.  

Information collected during a criminal investigation, for example, should be provided to families in a way and at the earliest time compatible with judicial guarantees.

  •  The main measures to be taken to ensure in all situations the setting up of the mechanisms needed to search for missing people and to answer family and community needs.  

Different mechanisms are involved and should build bridges between themselves to respond more effectively.


Programme for 21 February

Plenary session

09.00 – 12.30

14.00 – 17.00

  • Report from the panels

  • Summary of the plenary

  • Report of the Working Group on the Observations and recommendations and its adoption

  • Final statements

  • Statement by Jacques Forster, permanent vice-president, International Committee of the Red Cross



 Press questions?  



Antonella Notari, head of press - 079 217 3280

Florian Westphal, press officer – 079 217 3226

 For more information on   the missing  

This daily bulletin is for information purposes only and is not an official document of the conference. It will be av ailable to participants each morning and on the ICRC web site (www.icrc.org). It is also available to the media, ICRC delegations worldwide and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies.


Ian Piper, ICRC (English)

Jette Soerensen, ICRC (French)

Editor: Antonella Notari

Photos: Thierry Gassman, ICRC

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