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Security Council Adopts First-Ever Resolution on Persons Reported Missing during Armed Conflict, as Speakers Call for Greater Political Will to Address Problem

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 CAte 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.

Briefings

RENA GHELANI, Director for Operations and Advocacy, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, saidtoday's Security Council resolution affirms the obligation of parties to conflict to prevent persons from going missing and to clarify their fate if they do. It comes not a moment too soon, she said, emphasizing that alarming numbers of people go missing in armed conflicts. Such persons might be captured by warring parties and held incommunicado; or the victims of extrajudicial executions, buried in unmarked graves; girls and boys separated from their families, or elderly persons or persons with disabilities unable to flee; or civilians and combatants killed during fighting, their remains improperly disposed of. Whatever the circumstances, the families of the missing are left in a state of despair, and if the missing person is also a breadwinner, the impact can be economically devastating.

There is no comprehensive figure for those missing in conflict, but we know enough that the situation is dire, she said. In Syria, more than 10,000 cases of missing persons have been opened by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has also received 13,000 requests for support for finding missing relatives from families in Nigeria. In Myanmar, South Sudan and Yemen, 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. 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. It also enshrines the right of families to get information about the fate of missing relatives. That requires putting into place domestic laws and policies which include mechanisms to search for the missing.

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 to provide advice and support to Member States 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. For the sake of those who are missing now and the future, and for their suffering families, it is incumbent on all to take action, she said.

PETER MAURER, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaking via videoconference, 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. ICRC is a daily witness to this suffering, he said, adding that its teams are frequently approached for help by mothers searching for their sons and by husbands searching for their wives. But, much more can be done. 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.

While the issue remains complex, there is now a wealth of new sources of information that can facilitate the search for missing persons, he said. The Central Tracing Agency is modernizing its approaches, including investment in technologies, such as facial recognition. In addition, there is a growing body of expertise and experience, including in forensic science. He went on to urge Member States to adopt concrete steps, including that the States and parties to the conflict ensure international humanitarian law is respected in their operations. They must uphold families' right to know and ensure no one disappears in armed conflict. In particular, parties to the conflict should enable ICRC to access detention facilities and facilitate family contact.

States must put in place preventive measures, as obligations do not start after hostilities end, he said. The issue of the missing must be first and foremost humanitarian, not part of political agendas and accountability processes, he said, stressing the need to avoid political manipulation, which is seen too often. States must support professional, neutral and impartial humanitarian action on the issue of the missing.

Statements

SABAH KHALED AL-HAMAD AL-SABAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, welcomed the adoption of the resolution, drafted and submitted by his delegation. The objectives of the text are close to the heart of Kuwaiti people. The resolution aims to promote institutional and normative frameworks to prevent cases of missing persons in armed conflict. Today's adoption will give impetus to Council efforts on protection of civilians over the past 20 years. Current complex challenges require comprehensive solutions, the absence of which prolong conflict. One of the most pressing humanitarian challenges is the issue of missing persons in armed conflict. The resolution raises awareness about the issue and bridges the gap in measures to address it. The invasion by Iraq of Kuwait was a tragic experience for his country. However, it was able to determine the fate of 236 out of 605 missing persons, thanks to Council follow-up efforts, cooperation from the Iraqi Government and efforts by a tripartite committee, headed by ICRC.

JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that thousands of people go missing every year and their absence is felt by families for a lifetime. Trauma undermines reconciliation efforts. Noting cases of missing persons in Nigeria and Iraq, he said that today's adoption of the resolution is aimed at promoting international cooperation and underlines international law. It also builds on existing mechanisms and notes the primary responsibility of States to protect civilians. He urged Kosovo and Serbia to address the issue of 17,000 missing persons in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances in Syria due to its Government's oppression must be investigated through an impartial mechanism. The issue of missing persons is a humanitarian one, which should be removed from the political arena.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said his delegation was pleased to cosponsor the text, noting that the growing complexity of conflicts make it difficult to protect civilians, especially those vulnerable, including those who need social protection, such as children, minorities, women and persons with disability. Given that many people have gone missing during armed conflict in Africa, his delegation joins the Secretary-General's calls for respect for humanitarian law. Highlighting the role of humanitarian organizations, which can provide support in full respect of sovereignty of States, he warned against States using enforced disappearances as a military strategy and commended the work of ICRC in making this issue visible.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), expressing concern about the alarming increase in the number of persons reported missing worldwide, noted the efforts under way by the German Red Cross to locate the relatives of refugees and migrants who have arrived in Germany from Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Eritrea. The toughest cases involve Syria, he said, encouraging the Special Envoy of the Secretary General to work with the parties to the conflict to secure the release of detainees and to foster cooperation on missing persons. A pattern of disappearances involving the Syrian regime is unacceptable and must be fully addressed, he added. 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.

KACOU HOUADJA LA�ON ADOM (CAte d'Ivoire) underscored the scale and complexity of the issue, saying it involves the entire international community. It must act in lockstep to understand the phenomenon and find collective solutions. Respect for international humanitarian law must transcend partisan postures. It is essential to build the capacity of those States emerging from conflict to deal with cases of missing persons, he said, including strengthening institutional and legal mechanisms. He listed several practical measures that can be taken, including the mapping of places of detention that would help make it possible to confront parties to conflict with their obligations under international law. Databases can meanwhile permit the exchange of information and the identification of human remains. 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.

MA ZHAOXU (China) said that, for a long time, the issue of missing persons in armed conflict has received insufficient attention. Resolution 2474 (2019) is the first thematic text on the issue to be adopted by the Council, demonstrating the high priority it is giving to the issue and its firm stance on upholding international humanitarian law. To fully address the issue, the root causes of armed conflict must be eliminated, he said. 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. For its part, the international community should provide constructive assistance on the basis of respect for national sovereignty, he said.

FRANCOIS DELATTRE (France), stressing that the issue of missing persons is inherent in armed conflict, welcomed the adoption of the resolution. Emphasizing that the right to truth must be guaranteed, he said that it is crucial to cooperate with ICRC and its Central Tracing Agency. French forces inform ICRC when they detain persons, giving the organization access to information about detainees. No conflict justifies enforced disappearances, which are crimes against humanity, he said, stressing the role of International Criminal Court. France would have liked the resolution to explicitly refer to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, he said, calling on States to ratify the instrument if they haven't.

GENNADY V. KUZMIN (Russian Federation) said his delegation voted in favour of the resolution as it helps families, including those of missing military service personnel, to learn the fate of their loved ones and potentially save them. War is an evil in itself and should not be merely reduced to a matter of international criminal responsibility. Legal tools, such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Additional Protocols of 1977, have been already at States' disposal. It is political will of States that is lacking.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) stressed that, while conflict historically take a toll on civilians, this must not be considered a given. Efforts must be made to prevent people from going missing in conflict situations, including by establishing information centres for the coordination and pooling of information and by appropriately training armed forces. National laws and relevant international humanitarian instruments must also be upheld, including the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. Emphasizing that parties to conflict bear the primary responsibility of taking all steps to ensure the protection of civilians � including reducing the number of cases of missing persons � he added that international cooperation and support on the issue should also be advanced through bolstered forensics, the sharing of expertise and the use of modern technology.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said that situations on the ground can be extreme during times of conflict, making it hard to find missing persons. Nevertheless, parties to conflict must avoid actions that contradict their obligations under the Geneva Conventions. He emphasized the need for specific international and State action to address cases involving missing children. He called for efforts to establish appropriate mechanisms, and acknowledged the efforts of ICRC and other organizations, including the International Commission on Missing Persons, based in The Hague.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) underscored that the primary responsibility to address the root causes of conflict resides with States themselves. States must ensure that the people within their respective borders are accounted for and protected. Expressing concern about the rise of incidents of missing persons in armed conflict, he said that the uncertainty surrounding missing persons is deeply traumatic and requires due attention by national authorities, regional mechanisms and the international community. South Africa believes that international cooperation on this matter is indispensable, especially in terms of technical collaboration and development, which can assist in locating missing persons. He underscored the importance of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Conventions of 1949 in guiding the responsibilities of States and parties during armed conflict. Truth, justice and accountability are essential for consolidating peace gains, reconciliation and sustainable peace.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said the impact of disappearances on individuals, families and communities is one of the most devastating and persistent consequences of armed conflict. Uncertainty and the search for answers can go on for generations and could lead to new conflicts. He welcomed the fact that today's resolution describes several concrete measures � such as the registration of detainees, the exchange of information between separated family members, the gathering of information on disappeared and deceased persons, the mapping of gravesites and the appropriate handling of human remains to allow their identification � that can have an enormous impact if implements at the outset of conflict. Emphasizing that forced disappearances can be qualified as crimes against humanity, he warned that peace and reconciliation efforts can be undermined if whole families are kept in the dark about the fate of their loved ones, with no prospect of reparations while impunity reigns.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said that, all too often, stories are heard of people going missing in times of armed conflict. In Syria, those unjustly detained must be released, and the Assad regime must tell families about the fate of their loved ones. Such basic and humane steps would help build a basis for a successful political process in Syria. In Iraq, the United States, since 2005, has been funding efforts to identify, secure and excavate mass graves. It is also supporting the International Commission on Missing Persons, which is training Iraqi officials on how to investigate mass graves, and the United Nations Investigative Team against Da'esh as it collects and preserves evidence of atrocities carried out by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh). Joint efforts between Kuwait and Iraq on missing persons exemplify how countries can emerge from conflict and work in a spirit of cooperation and friendship. Stressing that today's resolution marks the Council's first collective call to address the issue of missing persons in conflict, he stated: Let us now turn our words into actions, together.

JOSA� SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) applauded the adoption of the resolution, stressing the importance of preventive and early actions, including registration of detainees and exchange of information. However, 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. If this issue is not fully addressed, resentment will undermine reconciliation, and a new conflict could begin. There is a significant gap in implementing obligations under humanitarian and human rights laws. Unfortunately, civilians account for most of the death toll in armed conflict. Attacks on densely populated areas must be avoided. National and regional arrangements to exchange good practices continue to be an area in which much remains to be done. Today's resolution must be accompanied by political will at all levels.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said that, in too many cases of missing persons, families are kept waiting to find out the whereabouts of their relatives, sometimes for years. As persons missing in armed conflict are part of various ethnic, religious or other communities, those communities are kept in uncertainty and left anxious, which, in turn, hampers reconciliation efforts. Preventive measures must be put in place, such as systematic efforts to register persons deprived of liberty, notify their families, collect and centralize information, and finally, the authorities must manage the dead in a dignified manner. States bear the primary responsibility to respect and ensure respect for human rights of all individuals. When preventive measures are not enough, States must do their utmost to trace, locate, identify and return the missing. They can do it individually or collectively with other States, parties to conflict or other non-State actors, if needed. The right to justice is essential to secure long-lasting peace and reconciliation, she/he stressed, expressing full support for the resolution adopted today. It is the obligation of all parties to the conflict to respect the principles and norms of international humanitarian law.

Source: UN Security Council

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/security-council-adopts-first-ever-resolution-persons-reported-missing-during-armed