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Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms

02-11-2004 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 59th session, Third Committee, item 105(b) of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, New York, 2 November 2004

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor.

Last year the ICRC was given the opportunity to highlight, before this body, the action taken by the ICRC regarding a grave problem associated with armed conflict and internal violence – the issue of missing persons and of their families.

Thousands of families around the globe undergo severe mental agony for uncertain, often prolonged, periods of time. As these relatives recount, the death of a family member, however painful, can eventually be accepted - but not knowing their fate is very different from any other experience that one may encounter in a lifetime. Besides being confronted daily with a host of difficulties, the families'suffering and relentless quest for information often leads to their social marginalization, with all the consequences that this may have on society, not to mention the obstacles placed in the way of peace and reconciliation.

We would like today to provide a brief update on the efforts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to better address this problem and on its objectives for the future.

It will be recalled that the ICRC convened, in February 2003, a conference of governmental and non-governmental experts in Geneva on missing persons and their families. The participants affirmed the magnitude of the problem and adopted a set of recommendations aimed at preventing and resolving cases of disappearances as well as responding to the needs of families left behind.

The 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Dec ember 2003, comprising not only the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies but also all States parties to the Geneva Conventions, confirmed its commitment to these objectives. Adopting by consensus the Agenda for Humanitarian Action, conference participants undertook to "  Respect and restore the dignity of persons missing as a result of armed conflicts or other situations of armed violence and of their families  " . The Agenda includes various activities to be taken to this end. A report on the measures carried out will be submitted to the next International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

For its part, the ICRC pledged to strengthen its operational practices, to work with relevant authorities and organizations, notably in implementing the recommendations and best practices identified, and to contribute to the strengthening of relevant international and domestic law. The ICRC has already included in its operational instructions the recommendations and best practices issued by the two conferences mentioned above. Thus, wherever necessary, the ICRC is reinforcing its traditional activities, such as re-establishing and maintaining family links, collecting and centralizing information on vulnerable persons and on the dead, and tracing persons when their families are without news of them. Within the bounds of its mandate and sharing its own experience, it participates in mechanisms designed to address these issues effectively.

In addition, the ICRC will seek to promote these best practices among all relevant actors. To this end, it has drawn up a plan of action for the years ahead. The plan will be implemented progressively, with the support of an internal Taskforce. It includes activities in the following areas:

  • Promotion of existing international law, development of legal guidelines for non-international armed conflict, and support to the development of a new international instrument to effectively protect persons from enforced disappearances;

  • Support for the enhancement of domestic law;

  • Cooperation with armed forces and regional military organizations, and facilitating contacts between them, in order to ensure, for instance, the wearing by military personnel of identification means, their regular exchange of news with their families, and the proper handling of information on the dead and of human remains on the battlefield;

  • Enhancement of family news networks and capacities to manage information;

  • Promotion of standards regarding the proper handling of the dead, for use by non-professionals, such as staff from humanitarian organizations, and by forensic professionals;

  • Promotion of guidelines regarding the specific needs of families and the means to support them.

Mr. Chairman, the above serves to illustrate the magnitude of the challenge before us. The ICRC thus calls upon all Member States, in coordination with their National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society, to actively follow up on this Agenda for Humanitarian Action in order to prevent and resolve the occurrence of missing persons, to better respond to their families, as well as to support ICRC activities to this end. It thanks them in advance for their support.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.