The Central Tracing Agency

And the Red Cross/Red Crescent Missing Persons Centre

Central Tracing Agency

The Central Tracing Agency (CTA) is one of the oldest institutions of the International Committee of the Red Cross enshrined in the Geneva Conventions. It is at the heart of the ICRC's efforts around the globe to: prevent people from going missing; restore and maintain contact between individuals and their families; search for missing persons; protect the dignity of the dead; and ensure that the needs of families are provided for.

The Central Tracing Agency provides services all over the world – including as a neutral intermediary – directly to people affected by armed conflict and other violence, disasters, migration and other situations requiring a humanitarian response. It coordinates the work of ICRC delegations and 191 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Family Links Network.
The CTA also acts in an advisory capacity and develops actions to support, advise and build the capacities of states, practitioners and other organizations through the Red Cross/Red Crescent Family Links Hub (also known as the Global Hub).

The CTA’s broad range of direct services and advisory support includes:

  • clarifying the fate and whereabouts of those who go missing and ensuring contact between separated family members by collecting and forwarding information, including family news
  • addressing – together with associations, communities, authorities and other actors – the wide range of needs experienced by families of missing persons
  • seeking to ensure, through bilateral and confidential dialogue, that states and parties to armed conflicts fulfil their relevant obligations in terms of the protection to which people are entitled under international law
  • helping governments establish normative frameworks and mechanisms to prevent people from going missing and to ensure proper handling of the dead
  • using new technology and data capacities to consolidate, analyse and preserve information to enhance the process of searching for and locating people, and to provide answers to families searching for their loved ones.

The CTA, which marked its 150th anniversary in 2021, continues to explore and implement innovative ways to transform the global effort to prevent people from going missing and to respond to the needs of both missing persons and their families.
In collaboration with partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, it conducts various international activities to restore and maintain family links during armed conflict and other situations of violence, disasters, migratory contexts and other situations requiring a humanitarian response.
The CTA traditionally serves as a neutral intermediary, and as a coordinator and technical adviser to National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and states in situations requiring a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian response to missing-persons cases and the needs of the families concerned.

The Red Cross/Red Crescent Missing Persons Centre - A knowledge and Advocacy Initiative

Through global advocacy, partnerships, cross-disciplinary exchange and research, the Centre strengthens the advisory role of the Central Tracing Agency and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on the issue of family separation, missing persons and protection of the dead.
Working with and for families, the Centre convenes relevant actors, develops awareness and galvanizes global action on missing persons. It draws on the multidisciplinary expertise of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to provide support to the relevant authorities to prevent and resolve cases of separated families and missing persons, to ensure the protection and dignified management of the deceased, and to address the needs of families.
The Centre provides practical expertise and access to the latest knowledge and technology to build local capacities.
Through online knowledge and exchange platforms, it stimulates innovative collaboration within the global community of practice.

The Missing Persons Project

Launched by the ICRC and housed within the CTA, the Missing Persons Project (2018-2022) has sought to bring together experts, family representatives, States and other key stakeholders from around the world in order to build consensus on best practices, promote existing technical standards and develop new ones, where needed. The MPP created opportunities for the global community of practitioners to collectively improve the response to the vast numbers of people going missing. It organised international conferences on a broad range of subjects, developed and published a range of technical guidance in consultation with experts worldwide, created the yearly International Conference of Families of Missing Persons and launched a community platform to connect over 1000 practitioners all over the world. With Switzerland’s DFAE, it initiated the Global Alliance for Missing Persons, gathering States interested to influence global action for missing persons and their families.

This website is a key outcome of the Project, housing a library of resources for practioners, promoting professional development and learning opportunities, and hosting a register of global organizations and practioners.

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

As the largest humanitarian network in the world, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering, protect life and health, and uphold human dignity, especially during armed conflicts and other emergencies, such as epidemics, floods and earthquakes. It is present in every country and supported by millions of volunteers.

The Movement is composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and 192 individual National Societies. Each component has its own legal identity and role, but they are united by seven Fundamental Principles.

These principles are: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. Each component of the Movement is committed to respect and uphold them.

Family Links Network

Coordinated by the Central Tracing Agency, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s worldwide Family Links Network comprises the CTA, the tracing units in ICRC delegations around the world, and the tracing services of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
Through its restoring family links (RFL) activities, the Movement’s mission is to make the most of its own resources, and those of the relevant authorities, to prevent family separations and persons from going missing, to maintain and restore family links and family unity, to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, and to support their families according to their needs. The Family Links Network can call on staff and volunteers throughout the world – in areas affected by conflict, disasters and other emergencies, and within the context of migration – to help fulfil this mission.
The CTA coordinates, provides advice to and strengthens the capacity of its partners within the Movement in RFL matters in all situations requiring a humanitarian response from the Movement. The CTA promotes consistency within the Family Links Network, providing methodologies and guidelines, and building information systems. Discover the history of these activities through the ICRC’s archives.