8543rd Security Council Meeting: Missing Persons in Armed Conflict

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11-Jun-2019 01:50:01
Security Council adopts first-ever resolution on persons reported missing during armed conflict, as speakers call for greater political will to address problem at 8543rd meeting.

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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.

Much more can be done, he said, speaking via video teleconference from Geneva. The legal framework is in place, with international law setting out obligations for preventing persons from going missing in armed conflict and clarifying the fate and whereabouts of those who do. The international community has practical experience, including preventing family separation, registering all persons deprived of their liberty or issuing identity disks to armed forces. “What is needed is stronger political will and cooperation,” he emphasized.

“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.

Sabah Kahled al-Hamad al-Sabah, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait and Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said the objectives of the text are close to the heart of the Kuwaiti people, as many of its citizens are still missing in the aftermath of the first Gulf war. Today’s adoption will give impetus to Council efforts on protection of civilians over the past 20 years, he said, adding that the text will raise awareness about the issue and bridge the gap in measures to address it.

Voicing concern about the alarming increase in the number of persons reported missing worldwide, Germany’s representative noted the efforts being made to locate the relatives of refugees and migrants who have arrived in his country from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Eritrea. Noting that some delegations opposed, including in today’s resolution, a reference to international criminal mechanisms, he said the Rome Statute includes a clear reference of forced disappearances, which is a crime against humanity.

The representative of Côte d’Ivoire underscored the scale and complexity of the issue, saying the international community must act in lockstep to understand the phenomenon and find collective solutions. Like other speakers, he listed several practical measures that can be taken, including the mapping of places of detention and the creation of databases. He stressed, however, that the fight against the disappearance of persons during conflicts will be in vain if it is not backed up by political will at the international, regional and national levels.

China’s delegate said that, to fully address the issue, the root causes of armed conflict must be eliminated. That means firmly rejecting anachronistic ideas — such as a clash of civilizations, a cold war mentality and zero-sum games — and to work towards a new style of international relations. When conflict in unavoidable, the parties should take effective measures to prevent disappearances, he said, adding that cases involving large numbers of missing persons should be investigated and those responsible held to account.

The representative of the Dominican Republic said it is regrettable that the text did not explicitly refer to the right of families to know the fate of their missing family members. This right must be fully respected by all parties to conflict, he said, emphasizing that, if this issue is not fully addressed, resentment will undermine reconciliation, and a new conflict could begin. He, too, emphasized that today’s resolution must be accompanied by political will at all levels.

Agreeing, Poland’s delegate emphasized the need to put in place preventive measures, such as the systematic registration of persons deprived of liberty. The authorities must also manage deceased persons in a dignified manner. When preventive measures are not enough, States must do their utmost to trace, locate, identify and return the missing, she said, adding that all parties to conflict must respect the principles and norms of international humanitarian law.

Also speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Equatorial Guinea, France, Russian Federation, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa, Belgium and United States.

The meeting began at 10:08 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.

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