Conflict – Missing Persons
Security Council Adopts First-Ever Resolution on Persons Reported Missing during Armed Conflict, as Speakers Call for Greater Political Will to Address Problem
11 June 2019
The Security Council adopted today its first-ever resolution dealing specifically with persons reported missing in armed conflict, with briefers and delegates — concerned that the number of such cases worldwide is showing no signs of abating — demanding greater political will to address the problem.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2474 (2019), the Council called upon parties to armed conflict to take all appropriate measures, to actively search for persons reported missing, to enable the return of their remains and to account for persons reported missing “without adverse distinction”.
Through the text, the Council also called upon parties to armed conflict to take appropriate measures to prevent persons from going missing, to pay the utmost attention to cases of children reported missing, and to register and notify the personal details of persons deprived of their liberty, including prisoners of war.
It further called upon States, in cases of persons missing resulting from armed conflict, to take measures, as appropriate, to ensure thorough, prompt, impartial and effective investigations and the prosecution of offences linked to missing persons due to armed conflict.
The resolution goes on to urge parties to armed conflict to collect, protect, and manage all relevant data and documents on missing persons; to search for, recover and identify the dead; to return remains, wherever possible, to their relatives; and to refrain from the deliberate relocation of remains from mass graves.
It goes on to urge the establishment of mechanisms, upon the outbreak of conflict, to exchange information on detainees and civilians; reiterates the Council’s support for efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in seeking access to information on persons reported missing; and calls for peace agreements to include provisions to facilitate the search for missing persons.
Briefing the Council after adoption, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said that, last year alone, more than 45,000 people were registered as missing by ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency, and this figure is the tip of the iceberg. “Every time someone goes missing, families wait for answers. Ricocheting between hope and despair, they mark anniversaries, 1 year, 2 years, 10 years,” he said. The trauma of ambiguous loss is one of the deepest wounds of war, he added. ICRC is a daily witness to this suffering, with its teams frequently approached for help by mothers searching for their sons and by husbands searching for their wives.
… “There is no comprehensive figure for those missing in conflict, but we know enough that the situation is dire,” said Reena Ghelani, Director for Operations and Advocacy of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She recalled that, in Syria, more than 10,000 cases of missing persons have been opened by ICRC, which has also received 13,000 requests for support for finding missing relatives from families in Nigeria. In Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen, meanwhile, the United Nations has reported cases of enforced disappearances, as well as missing persons. Still pending clarification are cases of missing persons in the Balkans, Lebanon, Nepal and Sri Lanka that go back years or even decades, she said, adding that international humanitarian law, as it relates to missing persons, prohibits enforced disappearance and requires parties to conflict to take all feasible measures to account for those reported missing, while also enshrining the right of families to get information about the fate of missing kin.
Describing today’s resolution is ambitious, she recommended that States and parties to conflict avail themselves of the support of ICRC and others to establish the necessary legal and policy frameworks. Strengthening the role and capacity of relevant existing national, regional and international mechanisms will be essential, she said, encouraging Member States to cooperate through networking and the exchange of experiences. Welcoming this year’s launch of the ICRC Missing Persons Project, she said the scale of the problem can and must be addressed, principally by respecting and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law…