Finding the millions of missing people across the world

Finding the millions of missing people across the world
By Euronews

The International Commission on Missing Persons is hosting a three day conference called “The Missing – an Agenda for the Future” at the Hague.

The core strategy of the conference is to set out a road map for how the issue of missing people will be addressed in the future. It will look at global initiatives to find missing people and how better to understand the magnitude of the problem.

The Commission was established at the G7 Summit in Lyon, France in 1996 at the request of President Bill Clinton in the aftermath of the war in the Balkans. Its primary role is to ensure the cooperation of governments in locating or identifying those who have disappeared.

The ICMP provides logistical support to the government in the exhumation of mass graves and the identification of bodies using state of the art DNA techniques in the countries of former Yugoslavia.

It has also provided evidence to the domestic and international courts that heard war crimes cases.

In the aftermath of the Bosnian war, around 40,000 people were missing. Because of the work of the Commission which is based in Sarajevo 70 percent were identified. There can be no precise figures for missing persons across the world.

According to estimates anything between 250,000 and one million are missing in Iraq, 50,000 in Syria and at least 26,000 in the Mexico drug wars.

Statistics show how modern conflicts affect civilians. Before the First World War the ratio of casualties – including those who go missing – was seven combatants to one civilian. Now the balance has shifted dramatically. The ratio is one combatant to nine civilians.

The most glaring example of that is the war in Iraq where it is the civilians who are paying the heaviest price. The invasion of Iraq which was ten years ago caused one of the most serious humanitarian crises in the world. The work to locate the missing in Iraq remains daunting.

Natural disasters like the tsunami in Japan are also in the focus of the work of the ICMP. The organisation hopes ways will be found to ensure an international mechanism is available that can provide a structured and sustainable response to all missing persons cases in rich and poor countries alike.

Euronews interviewed Queen Noor of Jordan, who is a commissioner with the International Commission on Missing Persons.

Paul McDowell, euronews:
“The title of the conference is ‘The Missing – an Agenda for the Future’. Tell me how difficult is it to look to the future because the causes that have created these problems are so many – whether it is armed conflict, violation of human rights or natural disasters.”

Queen Noor of Jordan:
“We are the only organisation in the world that is dealing with missing persons cases in all their dimensions, no matter what the circumstances. And this conference in The Hague is one that we’ve brought together for the first time ever – experts and policy makers – concerning the issue of missing persons and all of the different dimensions of this problem, again regardless of circumstances.”

“I get the sense that the real difficulty is to prioritise – where and who are in most urgent need of assistance. How will you approach that?”

Queen Noor of Jordan:
ICMP has developed the largest, most efficient and cost effective human identification laboratory system in the world that we have used in the Balkans, and that we have been able to demonstrate that it is possible to account for the missing from those kinds of extraordinarily complex and vicious genocides and abuses of human rights. Our experience there is informing our approach to countries like Libya and Iraq, which we’re working in today. Syria, where we’ve been approached by transitional justice groups, to try to help them begin to plan for post-conflict, and how they might address what are estimated to be about 50,000 people…. 17,000 from the previous regimes, and about 30,000 who have gone missing in this current conflict. One of the ways that we’re talking with them about what we might be able to do in this period now, is perhaps try to collect data – genetic data as well possibly – from those who have been displaced outside the country in camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon, in Iraq and Egypt and elsewhere… try to pull together as much data as possible, which helps us prepare to be able to set into motion the kind of operation that we have been able to achieve such great, unprecedented results with in the western Balkans, in a country like Syria.”

“Finally, it is difficult to get a concept of those huge figures, but perhaps a couple of high-profile cases recently have really hit home – and that is the cases of missing children that have been in the news. How much of your work in the future will focus on missing children?”

Queen Noor of Jordan:
“Women and children form a majority – if you will – of the cases we’ve had to address of missing persons in various parts of the world. In terms of the kinds of cases that you’re discussing, we haven’t yet developed a framework for handling individual cases in specific countries. We’ve been working on a much larger scale. But we do believe that our DNA identification system, that our work with different governments and international organisations – to develop legal frameworks and institutional and even community frameworks for looking at these problems, and trying to draw in as many people as possible to solve a problem – will apply to individual missing children cases as well as to larger scale problems.”

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