Speech FM Koenders opening headquarters ICMP

Speech by Foreign Minister Bert Koenders on the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), 24 October 2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

In her book about post-war Srebrenica ‘To Know Where He Lies’, Sarah Wagner speaks about the inadequacy of the word ‘’missing’’.

For ‘’missing’’ does not begin to describe the feelings of families of a disappeared person: in the anguish of not knowing, missing can never really become mourning.

Last time when I was here, I spoke to a man from Nepal, whose father was taken away more than 15 years ago, and never returned. He also spoke of this one thing: the anguish of not knowing.

Those who are present here today, know this all too well.

Some of you have experienced similar devastation in your own lives -  like Ms. Gudmundson from Sweden, and Mr. Abdulhusn from Syria. I am honoured to acknowledge your courageous presence here today and I am grateful that you can be here with us.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Addressing the anguish of not knowing – it is for this goal that, in 1997, the ICMP was set up. Shedding factual light on horrible events creates space for mourning, accountability and, eventually: new hope.

The official opening of ICMP’s new headquarters in The Hague is a new chapter in the long history of this goal.

Originally created to search for the missing after the destructive war in the former Yugoslavia, it now serves a much broader base. Unfortunately, ICMPs services and advice are needed across the globe, where people go missing not only in wars, but also because of natures destructive power.

Around the same time that ICMP started its work, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia came into being. The work of the ICMP in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been of great support to the work of the tribunal. More than 70% of the missing from the former Yugoslavia have now been located and identified. High-level perpetrators have been held accountable. The two organisations working together have shown us how truth can, indeed, help bring justice.

The ICMP is not the only initiative that contributes to accountability by finding facts. Unfortunately, today’s world is in need of many more initiatives like the ICMP. In Yemen, Syria and Iraq – to name only a few countries where ongoing wars have broken apart many a family. So many people lost their loved-ones. And here again: not knowing whether they are - dead or alive - is an unimaginable anguish.

They are longing for truth. And for justice, without which - this is something of which I am convinced - a durable peace is impossible.

This is why the Netherlands advocates strongly for independent international investigations into human rights abuses. This is why I was proud when we succeeded in the UN Human Rights Council to set up an international group of independent experts that will investigate the atrocities in Yemen. It is a breakthrough on our path towards more truth and accountability – without which there simply cannot be peace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some would say: first peace, then accountability -  let’s first end the conflict. It’s an old discussion.

In general, I do not agree.

While negotiating peace agreements indeed is a vulnerable process, it is important to start documenting atrocities at the earliest possible stages.

This is why, with regards to the ongoing conflict in Syria, we decided last year to set up a data collection mechanism. The International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria is now tasked to collect evidence of all parties involved.

Some day, this mechanism will serve as a first step to deliver the fundaments of justice for a new Syria. In the meantime, we regularly call for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC.

And then there is Iraq, where in some way or another, all civilians have become victims of Daesh. A brutal example are the Yazidi. We all followed the events that unfolded on august 3rd 2014, when Daesh entered the areas of the Yazidi people. Some were able to flee. Others fought Daesh on Mount Sinjar. Families were separated. Women and children were taken to Daesh territories. Husbands and fathers ‘disappeared’.

Today, survivors are desperately looking for news on their missing children and sisters, fathers, brothers and grand-parents. What happened? Are they in the hands of Daesh? Have they been killed? It remains unknown. Mass graves have been discovered. Perhaps their bones rest there?

Not knowing is torture. People deserve the truth about their loved ones.

This is why, with the support of the Netherlands, a new accountability mechanism has been established, similar to that of in Syria, called ‘the ISIS accountability Mechanism.”

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our support to such organisations is important. But we do not only support organisations. Sometimes, courageous individuals take upon themselves the often-risky task to find the missing. They need our support too. This is for example why the Netherlands selected Garciela Pérez Rodriguez as Mexican candidate for our Human Rights Tulip award. Garciela lost many of her family members - her daughter, brother and three cousins. She now dedicates her live to the search for missing persons. Thanks to her, a national registry of disappeared persons now exists in Mexico. I deeply respect the work she is doing, given the at times violent context in Mexico.

The world needs organisations like ICMP, and people like Graciela. And governments that support them.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Accountability for mass atrocity crimes is needed if we want to prevent their recurrence.

In 2017, The Netherlands will be member of the UN Security Council. We will use this opportunity to help strengthen international efforts in conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention, accountability and the protection of civilians are part and parcel of the Responsibility to Protect. They will be core priorities of the Netherlands’ mandate in the Security Council.

A year ago, I expressed our full support for ICMP’s efforts in its work for missing persons worldwide. Today, I congratulate ICMP with its new headquarters here in The Hague. I trust The Hague -  international city of peace and justice, which hosts many internationallegal entities – offers an environment in which ICMP will feel at home. The Netherlands is proud to not only host the ICMP, but also to have contributed to ICMP’s new DNA laboratory and its state-of-the-art sequencing technologies.

Let’s continue our close contribution on the future.

So that, as it is written on a stone outside a cemetery in Srebrenica, and I quote:

Grievance may become hope

Revenge may become justice

And mother’s tears may become prayers

That is my modest wish for all those, who suffer from the anguish of not knowing.

I wish ICMP a good start in The Hague.

Thank you.