What's In Blue

Posted Thu 27 Jun 2024

Protection of Civilians: Adoption of Presidential Statement on Missing Persons in Armed Conflict

Tomorrow morning (28 June), the Security Council is scheduled to adopt a presidential statement on missing persons in armed conflict. The text was put forward by the Council’s “A3 plus one” grouping (which comprises Algeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Guyana) to mark the five-year anniversary of resolution 2474 of 11 June 2019, which is the Council’s only standalone resolution on this issue.


Resolution 2474 was penned by then-Council member Kuwait and adopted during the country’s June 2019 presidency. It reaffirmed the Council’s condemnation of the deliberate targeting of civilians and other protected persons in situations of armed conflict and called on parties to 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. The resolution listed several measures that contribute to preventing persons from going missing, including detainee registration, producing proper means of identification, providing training for armed forces, and the establishment of national information bureaus upon the outbreak of an armed conflict. It also reiterated the Council’s support for the ICRC’s efforts to access information about persons reported missing and called on parties to conflict to cooperate with the ICRC and its Central Tracing Agency in this regard. Additionally, the resolution requested the Secretary-General to include a sub-item on the issue of missing persons in his annual reports on the protection of civilians (PoC) in armed conflict.

Several situations on the Council’s agenda are relevant to the issue of missing persons. The matter of missing persons in Syria has been discussed by Council members, including in a June 2022 Arria-formula meeting on “Syrian Women’s Voices on Detainees and the Disappeared in Syria”. The abduction of over 250 Israeli and foreign nationals during the 7 October 2023 attack on Israel led by Hamas was the subject of a 16 May Arria-formula meeting. In Colombia, the 2016 Final Agreement for Ending the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace between the government and the former rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) established a Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing as part of the Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition. In the context of the Iraq/Kuwait file, the Secretary-General regularly reports to the Security Council on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-party nationals following Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

On 12 June, also to commemorate the five-year anniversary of resolution 2474, Switzerland and The Global Alliance for the Missing—a coalition of 13 member states seeking to raise awareness about the issue of missing persons and separated families—convened an Arria-formula meeting of Security Council members titled “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: prevent and respond to persons going missing across the globe”. (For more information on that meeting, see our 11 June What’s in Blue story.)

Presidential Statement

Following consultations with Kuwait, the “A3 plus one” members circulated an initial draft of the presidential statement to Council members on 11 June. After receiving members’ written comments, the penholders circulated a revised draft for additional comments on 14 June. Subsequently, on 20 June, the penholders placed a second revised draft under silence procedure, initially until 21 June and later extended to Monday (24 June) following requests from Switzerland and the US. The silence procedure was broken by Switzerland, after which France, Russia, and the US submitted additional comments. On Tuesday (25 June), the penholders placed a third revised draft under silence procedure until this morning (27 June). That draft passed silence.

The draft presidential statement that is set to be adopted tomorrow reaffirms the Council’s concern about persons missing as a result of armed conflict, takes note of the five-year anniversary of resolution 2474, and calls for the resolution’s effective implementation. It also notes the 75th anniversary of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 25th anniversary of resolution 1265 of 17 September 1999—which first established PoC as a matter of international peace and security and introduced it as an item on the Council’s agenda—emphasising the continued need for member states to strengthen PoC efforts.

In this context, the draft presidential statement reiterates several provisions of resolution 2474 regarding missing persons in armed conflict. These include the importance of specific measures to prevent individuals from going missing in conflict; the critical role of the ICRC and its Central Tracing Agency to these efforts; the need to include the issue in peace negotiations and agreements; and the role of truth, justice, and accountability mechanisms in reconciliation and conflict resolution processes. The draft text also reiterates the call contained in resolution 2474 on parties to armed conflict to actively search for and identify missing persons, return remains to families, and maintain communication with affected families, highlighting the importance of addressing the needs of family members, especially women and children, and ensuring their rights to custody, property, and land. Additionally, the draft presidential statement urges parties to collect and manage relevant data on missing persons as a result of armed conflict and underscores the need for cooperation and coordination among member states and relevant organisations to advance forensic efforts for the dignified recovery, identification, and management of human remains.

It seems that Council members generally supported the text and that negotiations were relatively smooth. Language concerning international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) was the subject of some debate, however. In a paragraph demanding that all parties to armed conflict comply with their obligations under international law, in particular IHL and IHRL, the US apparently proposed language specifying “as applicable”. Similarly, in a paragraph reaffirming the importance of allowing families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives, consistent with IHL, the US apparently proposed inserting “applicable” before the reference to IHL. It seems that Switzerland broke silence on these additions, arguing that international law is always applicable and referring to resolution 2730 of 24 May on the protection of humanitarian and UN personnel—which was penned by Switzerland—for possible compromise language on this issue. In the final draft text set to be adopted tomorrow, it seems that the penholders deleted these two paragraphs in their entirety.

In addition, Russia apparently proposed a paragraph with language reaffirming General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991—which outlines a set of “UN guiding principles” for humanitarian assistance—combined with language based on resolution 2730 emphasising the importance of the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence in the provision of humanitarian assistance. References to the “UN guiding principles” have been a matter of contention in negotiations on Council products in recent years. China and Russia have increasingly sought to include this formulation, which is viewed as giving greater weight to state sovereignty and the consent of the country concerned. Other Council members prefer references to the delivery of humanitarian assistance in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. Due to this disagreement, it seems that Russia’s proposed paragraph was also deleted from the final draft.

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