Every year, hundreds of thousands of persons go missing in armed conflicts. This is not only a humanitarian tragedy for the people concerned and their families, but also has long-term consequences for the stability of societies and peace efforts. What preventive measures can be taken to ensure that people do not disappear? The UN Security Council addressed this question at an informal meeting on 12 June in the so-called ‘Arria format’. This was organised by Switzerland together with the Global Alliance for the Missing to mark the fifth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 2474 (2019) on missing persons in armed conflicts. The event is one of a series of initiatives organised by Switzerland to implement its priority ‘Protecting civilians’.

There are many reasons why people disappear: some lose contact with relatives while fleeing wars, others fall victim to arbitrary arrests. Some are never found because their remains are not exhumed or identified. As highlighted in the UN Secretary-General's Annual Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, the ICRC recorded the highest number of missing persons in decades in 2023. In light of these alarming figures, the Arria meeting aimed to raise awareness among the international community and emphasise the legal obligations of all parties to a conflict to prevent and search for missing persons.

At the meeting, Switzerland also emphasised the need to systematically address the issue of missing persons in mediation and peace processes. With the increase in armed conflicts worldwide, the number of missing persons is also rising. In order to prevent further disappearances and to create clarity for those who are missing a relative, those responsible must be held accountable. This is the only way to end impunity and achieve lasting peace.

In addition to accountability, other aspects - humanitarian, political, legal and extrajudicial - were also emphasised. Family members and civil organisations often play a central role in the search for missing persons. Representatives from Kuwait and Colombia shared their experiences in this area. In addition, a civil society representative from Nepal spoke about his personal involvement in reuniting families of missing relatives. The ICRC also shared its many years of experience at the meeting, for example in the work of the Central Tracing Service.