Lima: regional conference on missing persons
From 28 to 30 May, representatives of 19 Latin American and Caribbean countries met in Lima at the regional conference on persons missing in connection with armed conflict or internal violence.
Observers from various organizations active in this field also attended the conference, which was the first follow-up to the international conference on the same theme held in Geneva three months previously.
The event was organized by the Peruvian ministry of foreign affairs and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The objectives were to promote practical measures for preventing persons going missing during armed conflict or internal violence, together with action to improve the situation – support for families who have lost contact with loved ones and awareness-raising among governments, NGOs, leaders and opinion-makers. This involved assessing the situation with regard to missing persons, identifying them, planning measures to support or compensate families and, above all, finding ways of preventing people going missing in the first place
There were four workshops, on preventing disappearances, led by Anton Camen, legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross; mechanisms for determining the fate of missing persons, chaired by Javier Ciurlizza, Executive Secretary of the Peruvian truth commission, managing human remains and information about the dead, under Luis Fondebrider, member of the Argentine forensic anthropology team and support mechanisms for the families of missing persons, with Alex Segovia, Executive Director, Democracia y Desarrollo (a Guatemalan consultancy).
It became clear during the conference that despite Latin America’s many laws to protect the individual, implementation and compliance are still some way off in certain cases. Participants emphasized the importance of promoting an active role on the part of the State in the protection of human rights and compliance with constitutions, domestic law and international law.
On the other hand, participants also mentioned that over the past 15 years Latin American armed forces had become more interested in training their personnel in international humanitarian law (i.e. the law of armed conflict), and that police forces were taking a greater interest in the teaching of human rights to their personnel.
The conclusions mentioned the need for countries to set up bodies for registering detainees and missing persons. Such bodies would need to be independent, and would require the support of humanitarian organizations.
Other important elements included promoting existing mechanisms to facilitate histor ical research, recognition, reconciliation and compensation, plus following up the conference recommendations. The proceedings, conclusions and recommendations will shortly be published and circulated to the States of the region.
There was consensus among all participants – States, NGOs and associations representing the families of missing persons – on the importance of working together on the missing persons issue and regarding the need for measures to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy that had affected some hundred thousand lives in Latin America and the Caribbean over the last 30 years.