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International Review of the Red Cross, 2002, No. 848 – Missing persons

This special issue on missing persons examines protection work and restoration of family links, support for the families of missing persons, collection and management of personal data, and mechanisms for handling cases of missing persons.

Issue No. 848- 2002

Theme: Missing persons

Table of contents

  • Editorial
  • The missing
    Sophie Martin
    This article introduces the problematic of missing persons in reference to the relevant existing international rules in armed conflict and outlines measures designed to address the phenomenon and to respond to the needs of families that have lost contact with their relatives.
  • The ICRC and the missing
    Marco Sassòli, Marie-Louise Tougas
    This article describes the humanitarian issues and dilemmas faced by the ICRC in dealing with missing persons. It is argued that full respect of the rules of international humanitarian law is the best way of preventing disappearances and alleviating the concerns of families of relatives unaccounted for. Examples of past ICRC practice are analysed with a view to advocating development and systematisation of ICRC activities in respect of missing persons.
  • From regimental number to genetic code: The handling of bodies of war victims in the search for identity
    Luc Capdevila, Danièle Voldman
    This article retraces the recent history of war victims according to how they are identified and counted, and how their remains are treated. Today, anthropologists and doctors can examine the remains of bodies taken from gravesites and establish the circumstances of death. In future, tombs of the unknown soldier could well be replaced by monuments to unidentified civilians.
  • ‘Denial and silence’ or ‘acknowledgement and disclosure’
    Magriet Blaauw, Virpi Lähteenmäki
    This article addresses the psychological problems that families of missing persons may encounter. By looking at the complicated process of bereavement which may ensue if families are unable to carry out farewell ceremonies and death rituals for their missing relatives, the author discusses the importance of a comprehensive understanding of the problematic if family members of missing persons are to be properly assisted.
  • Humanitarian action, religious ritual and death
    Sylvain Froidevaux
    This article describes how humanitarian action and funeral rites should be performed in cases of persons missing and presumed dead, in order to allow their families to begin the grieving process. A comparative table presenting different religions’ funeral rites is included.
  • The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
    Federico Andreu-Guzmán
    This article describes the establishment, mandate and development of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The author examines various activities of the Group and offers recommendations on how to make its work more effective.
  • Overcoming tensions between family and judicial procedures
    Vasuki Nesiah
    Mechanisms designed to address the phenomenon of persons missing as a result of armed conflict or gross violations of human rights are examined in this article in terms of how well these mechanisms address three categories of needs of families of missing persons: information, accountability and acknowledgment. The analysis highlights the importance of establishing a plurality of mechanisms which respond to the diverse needs and priorities of victim families.
  • The missing in the aftermath of war: When do the needs of victims’ families and international war crimes tribunals clash?
    Eric Stover, Rachel Shigekane
    While international criminal tribunals have increasingly relied on forensic evidence to support prosecutions for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, these investigations have resulted in only a small number of the deceased being identified because of evidentiary needs or a lack of resources. It is argued that an international network of forensic scientists should be established to develop standards in this field. These should be guided by the principle that identification of the missing is just as important as collecting evidence.
  • Developing standards in international forensic work to identify missing persons
    Stephen Cordner, Helen McKelvie
    This article examines the need to develop standards in international forensic work to identify missing persons as well as provide evidence of international crimes. It is argued that a systematised method of selection of forensic scientists based on credentials and competence be established, as well as agreed international principles and technical standards to govern the work of forensic specialists operating in an international context.
  • Reflections on the scientific documentation of human rights violations
    Luis Fondebrider
    This article reflects on the psychological, judicial, political, economic and humanitarian consequences of exhuming human remains and trying to identify them. The new challenges presented to professionals involved in the scientific documentation of human rights violations both on a technical level and on an ethical level are examined and considered.
  • Management, exhumation and identification of human remains: A viewpoint of the developing world
    Alex Kirasi Olumbe, Ahmed Kalebi Yakub
    The difficulties encountered by developing countries in identifying missing persons as a result of armed conflict, internal violence or human rights abuses form the basis of the analysis of this article. The example of the situation in Kenya is presented as a case study. The steps involved in the process of human remains identification are detailed and it is argued that a network for the identification of missing should be established in all regions of the globe.
  • Biotechnology, weapons and humanity
    The ICRC is promoting consideration of the risks, rules and responsibilities related to advances in biotechnology which may lead to their hostile use to cause poisoning and deliberately spread disease.
  • Books and articles
    Recent acquisitions of the Library & Research Service, ICRC