Governments and civil societies around the world must do more to establish the fate and whereabouts of people who disappear in conflicts or other circumstances and give stronger support to the families left behind, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said.
Under international law, this obligation lies clearly with authorities and all former parties to the conflict. Today, many people in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (ARoB) are still asking questions about the fate of their loved ones who went missing during the Bougainville conflict more than 20 years ago.
“We want to know about the fate of our sons and brothers so that the families can find closure in their search for their loved ones. We also want the government to acknowledge the issue of missing persons in Bougainville,” said Chief Peter Garuai, Chairman of the Davoru Besi Family Association in Arawa.
“The issue of missing persons in ARoB is only just beginning to be recognised as a humanitarian priority in PNG by all stakeholders including both governments. There are still many needs to be addressed such as the practical problems and emotional suffering faced by the families of the missing persons.” ICRC Head of Mission in Papua New Guinea, Mr Gauthier Lefèvre, said.
The Autonomous Bougainville Government adopted a policy on missing persons in 2014, putting needs of families in the centre of the process, but it needs to be implemented. The National Government is in the process of creating their own policy that will help the process in Bougainville, once it is approved.
All issues related to accountability and compensation are excluded from the policy in Bougainville.
In dealing with the uncertainty that comes with missing relatives, families suffer in particular on an emotional and social level.They might experience isolation, sadness and marginalisation and often need long-term support in order to overcome these difficulties and regain control of their lives.
The disappearance of a loved one may leave the family disadvantaged, as customary land-titles depend to some degree on the proper burial of family members on their land.
To remember their loved ones, the families of the missing persons have organised events both in Arawa and Buka. These families chose the theme for this year which is ‘Still in Darkness and Waiting’.
On 28th August, the families will stage a silent march through Arawa, while in Buka at the Bel Isi Park, they will hold rituals beginning in the evening on 30th August through early morning of 31st August.
The support of ICRC in PNG includes the creation of Missing Persons Family Associations, supporting remembrance ceremonies, raising awareness in Bougainville and advising the authorities in ARoB and Port Moresby on how to address the issue of missing persons.