What's In Blue

Posted Tue 11 Jun 2024

Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Arria-formula Meeting on Missing Persons

Tomorrow afternoon (12 June), there will be 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”. Switzerland is convening the meeting together with 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 and to mobilise action to address it. The expected briefers are Ambassador Tareq Albanai, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to the UN; Dr. Luz Janeth Forero Martínez, Director of the Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing in Colombia; Florence Anselmo, Head of the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency (CTA); and a representative of families of the missing.

Participation in the meeting, which will begin at 3 pm EST and take place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, is open to all UN member states and permanent observers. UN agencies and civil society organisations are invited to submit written statements. The meeting will be broadcast on UNTV.

According to the concept note prepared by the co-organisers, the purpose of tomorrow’s meeting is to take stock of the implementation of resolution 2474 of 11 June 2019, the Security Council’s only standalone resolution on the issue of missing persons in armed conflict. Commemorating the resolution’s five-year anniversary, the meeting is intended to strengthen implementation of the resolution by identifying concrete measures to prevent and respond to persons going missing in armed conflict across the globe.

The concept note poses several questions to help guide the discussion at tomorrow’s meeting, including:

  • How can the Security Council better integrate the issue of missing persons into its conflict analysis and response, particularly in the early stages of conflict?
  • What essential preparedness and early response measures can member states take to prevent persons from going missing when conflict breaks out?
  • What are opportunities and risks associated with the use of new technologies and data science in dealing with missing persons?


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 the CTA 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.

According to the Secretary-General’s most recent report, dated 14 May and covering the state of PoC in 2023, the ICRC registered 40,000 new missing persons cases last year and was tracking more than 212,000 cases, the majority of which were related to armed conflict. This is the highest number of annual registrations ever recorded, an increase that the report largely ascribes to the conflict in Ukraine, where approximately 23,000 people are missing. The report also notes that the UN General Assembly established the Independent Institution on Missing Persons in the Syrian Arab Republic in June 2023 to help clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons in Syria and to support victims, survivors, and the families of those missing. In June 2022, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting on “Syrian Women’s Voices on Detainees and the Disappeared in Syria”.

Other situations on the Council’s agenda are also relevant to the issue of missing persons. 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. Most recently, resolution 2732 of 31 May, which renewed the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) for a final 19-month period, requested the Secretary-General to make recommendations for an “appropriate follow-on mechanism” to support continued progress on outstanding issues between Iraq and Kuwait if these issues remain unresolved upon the termination of UNAMI’s mandate.

Tomorrow’s Meeting

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers are expected to review progress and challenges in addressing the issue of missing persons in conflict five years after the adoption of resolution 2474. Albanai may describe Kuwait’s national experience in this area and highlight resolution 2474 as an important step in the international community’s wider efforts to prevent and respond to missing persons in conflict. He may note that the issue remains a growing global concern despite these efforts, however, and call on parties to armed conflict to redouble their efforts to meet the obligations imposed by the resolution and to implement the preventative measures it identified.

Forero Martínez may share lessons learned from the work of Colombia’s Unit for the Search for Persons Deemed as Missing. She might highlight the importance of the wide participatory process that led to the articulation of the 2016 peace accord, through which civil society organisations and victims called for the establishment of an independent humanitarian mechanism to search for people reported missing in the context of the conflict between the government and the former FARC-EP. In searching for the 111,640 people estimated to be missing, the unit has identified approximately 8,500 burial sites, recovered 1,432 bodies, and found 22 people alive since 2018, when it began its operations. Forero Martínez may describe some of the challenges that the unit faces, including difficulties in carrying out searches in the country’s vast and diverse terrain and insecurity caused by armed groups that still operate in the country. She might provide recommendations regarding support that the international community can provide to national search efforts, including financial contributions and technical assistance in the fields of data science and forensic medicine.

Anselmo may describe the role of the CTA, which is recognised in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and its work as a neutral intermediary to engage with parties to conflict to search for and identify missing people, restore family links, protect the dignity of the dead, and provide support to families of the missing. She may note the agency’s involvement in several situations on the Council’s agenda and describe the increasingly complex contexts in which it operates, which are often characterised by protracted conflict, large-scale migration flows, and the exacerbating effects of climate change. With reference to resolution 2474, which calls on parties to armed conflicts to include provisions to facilitate the search for missing persons when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, Anselmo may highlight the CTA’s recently published guidance for mediators on addressing the fate of missing persons.

At tomorrow’s briefing, the representative of families of the missing may stress the importance of developing and implementing transitional justice mechanisms with meaningful input from victims, survivors, and the families of the missing.

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