In June 2019, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) underscored the importance of mechanisms in Resolution 2474, in which it stressed the need “to take all appropriate measures, to actively search for persons reported missing” and “to strengthen(ing) the role and capacity of the existing national, regional and international mechanisms”. It called on member states to exchange experiences and best practices, which can contribute to comprehensive responses to the issue of missing persons in armed conflict.
However, despite the above-mentioned experiences, to date, few standards or guidance documents exist to advise states and other actors on how to establish or strengthen such mechanisms.
Against this background, practitioners, experts and representatives of families from around the world gathered in Nicosia, Cyprus in October 2019 to share insights and lessons learned from their work with such mechanisms in the context of armed conflict and other situations of violence. The
expert meeting was a valuable opportunity for exchange and learning, and enabled participants to identify common principles and features considered to be fundamental for the effective functioning of mechanisms for missing persons. While participants acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, they agreed on the need for practical guidance and tools to support the establishment and functioning of such mechanisms and committed to engaging in a process to develop them.
Although these guidance notes focus primarily on so-called national mechanisms, the guidance contained in several of the notes is equally relevant for other mechanisms, such as
coordination mechanisms set up between former parties to armed conflict.
Drawing on experiences in a diverse range of contexts around the world, the following notes provide guidance on subjects such as the underlying legal framework and mandates of mechanisms, the role and needs of families of missing persons, the importance of political will, and the management and protection of relevant data.
This guidance note describes how contextual realities will influence the establishment, scope and functioning of national mechanisms dealing with missing persons. It explains the importance
of a clear mandate and sets out key elements of such mechanisms, including their
objectives, organizational set-up and relationship with other authorities and powers, legal
status, and representation and participation of relevant constituencies.
The national mechanism should ensure that the humanitarian objectives of clarifying the fate and whereabouts of the missing
and supporting their relatives are pursued.
This guidance note examines key principles and enablers that allow for the development of a successful mechanism.
A mechanism should be guided by the multifaceted needs of the families of persons and its objectives designed to meet those needs.
This guidance note examines how a mechanism can support the families of missing persons. It underscores the importance of carrying out an assessment to ascertain the families’ specific difficulties, needs and expectations, and provides a brief overview of the different needs that families of missing persons may have.
A mechanism requires political will and support to ensure it has the necessary powers and resources to carry out its mandate effectively and meet its objectives. This guidance note examines the concept of political will and explains why it is necessary for the establishment of a national
mechanism, the proper functioning of the mechanism and implementation of its objectives. It aims to identify indicators of political will, highlight some of the key internal and external factors that can influence decision makers,and provide some guidance on how to build political will while mitigating the risk of politicization. This guidance note aims to support civil society, key political actors and authorities involved in the establishment of the mechanism, and, ultimately, the mechanism itself.
The objective of a mechanism is to ensure a comprehensive institutional and procedural response to the missing and the needs of their families. In order to ensure the response is appropriate, multidisciplinary, integrated and effective, it is important to ascertain existing capacities, identify gaps and challenges, and design a strategy to create or complement the response. This guidance note provides an overview of the actors involved, directly or indirectly, in clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing persons and meeting the needs of families. It also highlights some practical challenges that could affect the response and recommends an assessment of existing capacities prior to designing the mechanism’s activities and response.
A mechanism must ensure an informed and appropriate response, which complies with international obligations and is compatible with the prevailing legal system. It is therefore important to have a good understanding of the domestic legal and policy framework. The establishment of the mechanism may require legal reforms to ensure the effectiveness of the system and to address any gaps and shortcomings.
The mechanism should ensure the effective participation of families of missing persons in both the process to establish and the operation of the mechanism. This guidance note underscores the importance of family involvement in the mechanism and provides an overview of the possible roles they can play. It examines the formation and activities of family associations and outlines the opportunities that could be explored, as well as some of the challenges that may need to be addressed.
The national mechanism should create a data and information management system to ensure all data and information collected are trusted, accessible, secure and optimized for use, to increase the impact and effectiveness of a national mechanism for missing persons according to its mandate. This guidance note provides an overview of common objectives that underpin the creation of a data and information management system within the mechanism and sets out key aspects of data and information processing in accordance with the principle of “do no harm” and applicable data protection laws and