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New Handbook Helps Trace Missing Persons


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The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Inter-Parliamentary Union have launched a new handbook to help lawmakers around the world tackle the problem of missing persons. The organizations are trying to put the plight of those who have gone missing high on political agendas. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the opening of the 121st Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Geneva.

No one knows how many people have disappeared around the world. But, humanitarian organizations estimate their numbers to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Many persons have gone missing in armed conflict or as a consequence of political oppression. Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Christine Beerli, says international humanitarian law requires authorities to do all they can to inform families about relatives who have disappeared.

Yet, she say countless people around the world remain without news of missing relatives, sometimes for decades.

"Take for example the Iran-Iraq war. More than 20 years later, tens of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian families of the missing are still without answers," she said. The same can be said for the former Yugoslavia where the families of more than 17,000 missing people continue to hope for news. Not to mention countries like Kuwait, Peru, Argentina or Nepal," she said.

Beerli says resolving the issue of the missing is a long, slow and difficult process. But, she adds, perseverance pays off. She urges Parliamentarians to be tenacious and vigilant in their efforts to put the missing on their political agendas time and time again.

The joint IPU-ICRC handbook spells out what lawmakers can do to prevent people from disappearing in armed conflicts. It explains what they must do to clarify the fate of missing persons and to better support the families of the missing.

Beerli highlights some of the issues explored in the guide.

"These include rules to ensure that combatants and vulnerable persons be provided with personal identification," she explained. "That persons deprived of their liberty be properly registered, notified and allowed to communicate with their families, that there are procedures for the proper handling of the dead and human remains and much more," she said.

Beerli says international humanitarian law must be better implemented. She says it is up to lawmakers and politicians to see to it their governments ratify relevant treaties and legislation.

And when a conflict erupts, she says Parliamentarians must do what they can to facilitate humanitarian operations, protect civilians and relief workers.