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Nine ways for European governments to establish the truth about missing persons and support victims

Issue Paper
Strasbourg 17/03/2016
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Nine ways for European governments to establish the truth about missing persons and support victims

“The protracted inability of European countries to shed light on the fate and whereabouts of tens of thousands of persons who are missing or disappeared following conflicts or dictatorships across the continent is an open wound for their relatives and constitutes a serious human rights violation. It is high time to close the shameful gap between what families need and what states do” said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing an Issue Paper on missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe.

The Commissioner proposes nine sets of recommendations intended to help states improve their legislation and practice. In particular, he recommends: providing direct victims and their families with adequate reparation, including the necessary legal, social and psychological support; enhancing the processes of exhumation and identification; training public officials on missing persons and enforced disappearance; supporting missing person mechanisms and truth-seeking initiatives; ensuring effective  access to information and archives; strengthening domestic legislation in this field; carrying out effective investigations and eradicating impunity; and promoting and implementing relevant international and European standards.

The paper also provides an overview of the situation concerning people who have been forcibly disappeared or gone missing in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Northern Ireland, the Russian Federation, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and the Western Balkans. It then presents the major international and European standards and mechanisms which frame states’ obligations in this field. It concludes with an assessment of current shortcomings in European states’ law and practice and highlights good practices and initiatives undertaken worldwide.

 “Families of missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance are caught between hope and despair. They have a right to know the truth, and states have the duty to establish it. Whether they succeed is more a question of political will than of a lack of possibilities.”