Security Council briefing on missing persons and armed conflict, Reena Ghelani, Director of the Operations and Advocacy Division, OCHA, 11 June 2019
I am pleased to deliver this statement on behalf of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock.
We very much welcome today’s discussion and adoption of the resolution on missing persons in armed conflict.
Importantly, the resolution affirms the obligation of parties to conflict to prevent persons from going missing and to clarify their fate if they do go missing.
It comes not a moment too soon. Alarming numbers of persons go missing in armed conflicts.
They might be captured by warring parties and held incommunicado in secret locations where they may ultimately die.
They might be victims of extrajudicial executions, their bodies hidden in unmarked graves.
Sometimes they are civilians merely fleeing violence, girls and boys who become separated from their families, and elderly persons or persons with disabilities who are unable to flee or are left behind.
They might be civilians or combatants, killed during fighting and their remains improperly managed or disposed of.
Whatever the circumstances, the families of the missing are left in a state of absolute despair, not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.
When the missing person is also the breadwinner, the impact on families can be economically devastating.
In some situations, relatives of missing persons find it hard to remarry, claim their inheritance, receive benefits and rebuild their lives in the face of legal and administrative obstacles.
Moreover, the anguish and uncertainty can jeopardize the prospects for reconstructing the social fabric of conflict-affected communities and societies.
There is no comprehensive figure for those missing in conflict. But we do know is enough to know that the situation is dire.
For example and you will hear more form the Presidnet of the ICRC more than 10,000 cases of missing persons have been opened by ICRC in relation to the Syrian conflict.
The organization has also received 13,000 requests for support in finding missing relatives from families in Nigeria.
In Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen, United Nations bodies have reported cases of enforced disappearance of persons deprived of their liberty, along with many other persons reported to be missing.
Meanwhile, cases of missing persons that occurred years ago and even decades ago in the Balkans, Lebanon, Nepal and Sri Lanka, for example, are still pending clarification.
What we need, as the Secretary-General noted in his report last month on the protection of civilians, is for parties to conflict to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law as it relates to missing persons.
The law prohibits enforced disappearance.
It requires that parties take all feasible measures to account for those reported missing as a result of armed conflict.
And it enshrines the right of the families of the missing to receive information on their fate and whereabouts.
In turn, this entails putting in place appropriate domestic laws and policies, including mechanisms to search for the missing and respond to the needs of their relatives.
These mechanisms should entail the collection, management and protection of information on missing persons; the establishment of necessary forensic and other processes for managing human remains; and the provision of psychological, legal and financial support needed by the families of the missing.
The resolution adopted by this Council today is rightely ambitious: it calls upon States and parties to conflict to put in place these and other specific measures.
We would encourage parties to conflict and States to avail themselves of the support of the ICRC and other key actors to establish the necessary legal and policy frameworks related to missing persons and the needs of their families.
As the resolution rigthtly stresses, strengthening the role and capacity of relevant existing national, regional and international mechanisms to provide advice and support to Member States will be essential. We would also encourage Member States to engage in networking, exchanging of experience, best practices and other means of cooperation on the issue of missing persons as a result of armed conflict.
In that regard, we welcome the launch this year of ICRC’s Missing Persons Project which will build a community of practice; bring together experts and practitioners to work with families, Member States, international organizations and other actors to help stop people from going missing, find those who have gone missing and support their families.
The scale of the problem can and must be addressed, principally by respecting and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law. For the sake of those missing now, and in the future, and for the families who suffer so much as they wait for news, it is incumbent upon us all to take action.
Thank you for your attention.