posted on Mon 10 Jun 2019 5:59 PM
Missing Persons in Armed Conflict Briefing and Resolution

Tomorrow morning (11 June), the Security Council is scheduled to hold a briefing on “missing persons in armed conflict” under the protection of civilians agenda item. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, will preside. The briefers are expected to be Reena Ghelani, Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division, and ICRC President Peter Maurer (via video teleconference). A draft resolution that has been negotiated by members is now in blue.

Tomorrow’s briefing marks the first time the Council has addressed the issue of missing persons in armed conflict as a stand-alone subject and not part of a broader discussion on the protection of civilians. Prior to the meeting, Kuwait circulated a short concept note stressing the need to encourage all parties to conflict to make concrete arrangements, founded on international humanitarian law, to prevent disappearances.

A major goal of the meeting is to move the focus on missing persons from being a post-conflict issue to one that is addressed from the beginning of conflict. This approach could help prevent critical information on the fate or location of the missing from being lost, and “in confidence-building between parties to conflict and in enhancing the scope of reconciliation between them…[and]…their future relations”, according to the concept note.

Kuwait further sees the briefing as an opportunity to raise awareness of the issue, and encourage parties to conflict to protect “evidence and witnesses, enabling all those who work in the field of search[ing] for and excavation of missing persons, particularly those who specialize in the field of medical and legal forensics to perform their duties.”

The draft resolution, prepared in close consultation with the ICRC, will if adopted also be the first ever stand-alone resolution on missing persons in armed conflict. After two rounds of negotiations and several bilateral discussions, Kuwait put its draft in blue on Friday evening (7 June).

The draft resolution lists important measures that contribute to preventing persons from going missing in conflict, such as detainee registration, producing proper means of identification, and the establishment of national information bureaus, among other efforts. In this regard, it urges parties to armed conflict to create national information bureaus or other mechanisms when conflict breaks out “to exchange information on detainees and civilians belonging to an adverse party, to transmit information to that party…and to open enquiries regarding these persons”. The draft also reiterates the Council’s support for the ICRC’s efforts to access information about persons reported missing in conflict and calls on parties to conflict to cooperate with the ICRC and its Central Tracing Agency concerning missing persons in conflict, in keeping with the relevant obligations of international humanitarian law.

An operative paragraph cites the need to pay particular attention to children that are reported missing. In this respect, the draft resolution calls on parties to conflict “to take appropriate measures to search for and identify those children”.

The resolution encourages special representatives of the Secretary-General, special envoys, coordinators and advisors “to take into account, while implementing their respective mandates, the issue of missing persons as a result of armed conflict”.

It requests the Secretary-General to include a sub-item in his yearly report on the protection of civilians on the issue of missing persons resulting from armed conflict, including measures undertaken by parties to armed conflict, and to discuss the implementation of the resolution during the annual briefing on protection of civilians.

Silence was broken by several members. In broad terms, members recognised Kuwait’s desire to address the issue of missing persons but raised some concerns. Differences seemed to focus on the applicability of international law, particularly on missing persons as a humanitarian or human rights issue. The two concepts imply different obligations by parties to an armed conflict. Some members maintained that an emphasis on human rights law was too broad in scope for a draft resolution focusing on missing persons in armed conflict. As a result, the draft in blue is primarily focused on the responsibilities of parties under international humanitarian law.

Some Council members thought that certain sections, notably those on human rights and accountability, could be stronger. On the one hand, the text underscores that accountability for missing persons because of armed conflict can be part of the design and implementation of peace agreements and peacebuilding processes, including concerning the rule of law and justice mechanisms. However, the text in blue offers no elements related to specific international criminal or investigative mechanisms. This approach seems to be part of an effort to promote broad agreement on the draft.