Families of missing persons: between hope and despair

Apr 13, 2018

Participants discuss issue of missing persons in Libya during the meeting. Photo: ©UNDP

Families of missing in Libya continue to suffer after many years hoping to know about the fate of their beloved ones.

“I miss my son’s smile, his voice and his presence in the house,” says one of the participants at the two-day workshop organized by the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), under the theme of “Knowing the Fate of Missing Persons in Libya: A Condition for National Reconciliation.”

“My son was kidnapped by a terrorist group. He did not take part in any military activity and he was not a member of any militia or political group.” With tears in her eyes and trembling voice, the mother goes on: “Since 2014, I am dreaming of seeing my son and hugging him, even just for a second.”

“We are living in a continuous pain, always wondering. We have to live with their absence, but we cling to hope and wish that our faith does not betray us,” says another participant, whose family member has been missing since 2011. “We do not know anything about him, but we wait for him to come knocking at our doors. Sometimes our hope is strong, but other times is very weak,” he explains.

Although, there is no accurate data available, some estimates point to thousands of people still missing in Libya, from victims of arbitrary arrest during Gaddafi’s rule, 1977 war with Egypt, 1979 Libya support to Uganda during its war with Tanzania, 1980 wars with Chad, Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996, to the conflict in 2011 and 2014.

Article 26 of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in December 2015 and brokered by the UN, urges to all parties to collect information on abductees and missing persons. It also calls for the creation by the Government of National Accord of an independent body to disclosing the fate of missing persons, however, political fragmentation between East and West has paralyzed until now any further step to enlighten the issue.

The UNDP-UNSMIL workshop took place from 13 to 14 March 2018, under Towards National Reconciliation project that, supported by United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, works toward UN efforts to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and access to justice for all (Sustainable Development Goal 16).

In line with UN commitment to the LPA, the two-day event brought together not only missing persons families, but technical experts, representatives of the Institution for the Care of Families of Martyrs and Missing Persons, the Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Social Affairs, and the General Attorney’s Office.

They discussed ways to uncover the fate of those who went missing during conflicts in Libya and to provide answers to their families.

 One of the participating expert underlined that the file of missing persons should not be politicised. He also emphasized that transparency by all related government institutions is a key in resolving the issues of missing persons.  

Another participant reiterated that addressing the issues of the missing in Libya is a precondition and an essential element of the reconciliation process.

At the end of the workshop, attendees agreed to recommend the development of a joint strategic plan to address the missing persons file.

 “We suffer every time we hear news about missing people, however, being here today, and seeing the support from the authorities and the international community, and the willingness to put mechanism in place to help us, renews our hopes,” concludes a mother of a missing person.

 

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