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Missing persons

08-04-2004 Statement

60th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Agenda item 14 (d) - 8 April 2004. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Thank you Mister Chairman,

Last year, the ICRC had the opportunity to inform the Commission about the outcome of the International Conference of Governmental and Non-Governmental Experts on the issue of persons missing as the result of armed conflict or internal violence and the problems faced by their families, which had just been organized by the ICRC in February 2003 in Geneva.

Our President already mentioned to you that the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in December 2003 in Geneva has acknowledged the importance of the issue in adopting the Agenda for Humanitarian Action , more specifically its General Objective 1 , Respect and restore the dignity of persons missing as a result of armed conflicts or other situations of armed violence and of their families .

This major step shall now definitely be followed by concrete action first of all by governments but also by all other concerned actors, including organized armed groups, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, the ICRC and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

This concrete action is to be based on the recommendations and best practices defined during the process, which culminated in the international conference of experts in February 2003 [1 ] .

To foster action, a number of concrete operational steps must be taken, such as:

  • providing identity discs for members of armed and security forces and of organized armed groups;

  • facilitating the exchange of family news at regular intervals, including for members of armed forces or organized armed groups and for persons deprived of their liberty;

  • supporting the Red Cross / Red Crescent Family News Network;

  • properly taking care of the dead and human remains by armed and security forces, organized armed groups and humanitarian organizations;

  • addressing the specific needs of families of missing persons.

A number of legal measures should also be taken.

At the international level, for example, additional, more detailed legal guidelines to be respected in non-international armed conflicts should be available and respected. The ICRC also considers essential the work of the Intersessional open-ended working group to elaborate a draft legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance . The new instrument should allow for the implementation of very concrete measures contributing directly to the prevention of enforced disappearance, such as keeping official registers regarding arrests, transfers and releases and taking adequate care of the dead and human remains. In spite of all prevention efforts enforced disappearances may still occur. Thus, the needs of families of missing persons should be addressed by the new instrument. These needs include receiving information on the individual fate of their missing family members, acknowledgment of the events leading to missing persons, the perpetrators of violations being held accountable, and receiving the necessary material, financial, psychological and legal support.

Domestic law should ensure the implementation of existing international law and be further developed, where necessary, to better prevent persons from becoming missing and to better support families of missing persons. The implementation measures should address such topics as personal identification means, exchange of family news, arrest and detention procedures, proper handling of the dead and of human remains, the protection of personal data, the right of the family to know the fate of their missing relatives, and the legal situation of persons reported missing and the consequences for their family members.

Mister Chairman, the ICRC will promote concrete action on all these subjects. It calls for support of all governments and concerned inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. It would also like to be able to count on the support of the Commission on Human Rights, as well as that of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Thank you, Mister Chairman.


1. These are available in the " ICRC Report : The Missing and their Families – Summary of the conclusions arising from events held prior to the International Conference of Governmental and Non-Governmental Experts (19-21 February 2003) "  (ICRC/The Missing/01.2003/EN/10) - The report is available on request.