As countries all over the world struggle to address the issue of large numbers of missing persons – from conflict, natural disasters, irregular migration and other causes – it is important to remember that an international legal framework has been set in place that lays out the obligations of governments to take effective action, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger has written in an opinion piece published to mark International Day of the Disappeared.
Ms Bomberger stressed that social and scientific strategies have been developed that make it possible to account for much higher numbers of missing persons than would have been imagined even 20 years ago. In the Western Balkans, for example, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has spearheaded an effort that has made it possible to account for well over 70 percent of the 40,000 people who went missing in the conflicts of the 1990s, including 7,000 of the 8,000 men and boys who disappeared in the Srebrenica Genocide.
At the November 2019 Paris Peace Forum, Ms Bomberger wrote, ICMP presented Eight Principles that sum up the obligations of governments to account for missing persons. “The Paris Principles assert that resolving the fate of missing and disappeared persons and protecting persons against disappearance are integral to fulfilling the responsibility of states to support peace, reconciliation and social cohesion, and are key elements in upholding basic human rights. The Principles highlight the fact that missing persons investigations must be capable of establishing the facts, and that cooperation among states and international institutions is indispensable. They also emphasize that persons who go missing or are victims of enforced disappearance are entitled to protection under the law, regardless of citizenship or residence status, and that all measures to address the issue of missing migrants, for example, must uphold and advance the rule of law.”
Ms Bomberger argued that accounting for the missing is an indispensable element in post-conflict and post-disaster recovery, because if it is not done properly, the erosion of confidence in political institutions and processes may have profound and negative social and political consequences.
“Accounting for the missing is a moral obligation, but it is also – and this is crucial – a legal obligation; fulfilling this obligation advances and strengthens the rule of law. On the International Day of the Disappeared, it is appropriate that we renew our commitment to meeting the global challenge of missing persons, building institutions as we do so that are more just and that merit the public trust.”