PHR’s Director of the International Forensic Program, Stefan Schmitt, recently appeared in an interviewwith the BBC World Service to discuss the UN International Day of theDisappeared. Schmitt spoke of attempting to provide identification for many ofthe “disappeared” in Rwanda, victims of the genocide there in 1994. Hediscussed the inherent difficulties of such a task from a number of standpoints,whether it be the sheer number of bodies, a lack of technical capacity for properDNA and other forensic identification, identifying surviving family members, orsimply not having a record of who is actually missing.
“You have such a hugenumber of victims, bodies just everywhere on the streets, fields ofbones…oftentimes if you want to return these remains back to their relatives,that becomes increasingly more difficult once these types of scenes have beendisturbed…there were no relatives left anymore in many instances,” saidSchmitt.
Schmitt explains the importance of providing identificationof the victims to their family members. He explains how access to a loved one’sremains, even if it is just clothing or jewelry, and answers to the multitudeof questions surrounding their death can help to provide closure and a sense ofpeace, “…your body is a big part of how your family deals with the fact thatyou died and the aftermath of that.”
Today is the first International Day of the Disappeared. Theday was created to spotlight the upcoming 20th anniversary of theadoption of the UN General Assembly of the Declaration on the Protection ofAll Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Enforced Disappearances are short andlong-term detainment, or outright murder, of individuals or groups by Stateauthorities to suppress a population’s legitimate concerns or demands. Regardless of who uses it, how it isemployed, or what justifications are proffered, such unspeakable violations ofhuman rights cannot be tolerated and PHR stands with the UN and the globalcommunity in continuing to raise awareness about this vital issue.
Listen to Schmitt discuss the Day of the Disappeared on BBC.