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IRAQ: New centre for missing people to open - OCHA IRIN
Friday 25 March 2005
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IRAQ: New centre for missing people to open

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


Women in Fallujah city waiting to hear news on loved ones who have gone missing.

BAGHDAD, 7 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) in Baghdad is setting up a National Centre for Missing and Disappeared Persons (NCMDP) to help relatives find out what has happened to their loved ones.

The new programme being developed by the MoHR, will examine bones samples recovered from mass graves, as well as establishing a register of names of those reported missing since 1978 in Iraq.

Families will be given the opportunity to provide blood for DNA testing to check against samples taken from bodies found in mass graves.

According to the MoHR officials, nearly one million Iraqis are believed to have disappeared during Saddam Hussein's regime and a large number are believed to be buried in the 228 mass graves discovered so far. The majority disappeared during the Gulf war in 1991 and the subsequent Shi'ite uprising in the south of Iraq, officials said.

"Those skeletons should be recognised for families to give a minimum of dignity for their burial and at least families will feel more comfortable to know that a missing member of their families has been found," Bakhtiar Amin, minister for human rights, told IRIN.

With help from the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) the required information for the DNA process would be collected, he explained.

One woman told IRIN of her feelings since she last heard from her son. "Nearly 15 years after my son disappeared, I still have the expectation to find him again and if he died at least my heart can rest in peace. But I cannot still wait to know what happened and this new centre will help thousands of mothers that are suffering like me," Samiha Yunnis said.

According to Dani al-Baya'a, secretary for the human rights minister, it is not a simple process. Specialised pathologists are needed since most of best qualified personnel left the country after the war in 1991. There is also shortage of DNA testing equipment which is expensive and can only be used by highly qualified staff.

At a press conference last week, Amin said they were trying to learn from experiences in Kuwait, Kosovo and Bosnia. Civil wars in Kosovo and Bosnia resulted in hundreds of mass graves.

But the identification issues are not only centred on mass graves. Hundreds of people remain unidentified and missing during and after the conflict in 2003.

Officials from the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) office, responsible for the problem of identification, told IRIN that every day many families come to them searching for their missing loved ones, particularly those from Fallujah, where intense fighting between US forces and insurgents took place.

They added that after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) closed its office in the capital, because of the lack of security, the search for missing people had become even more difficult and would take even longer than expected.

"The new office will be very helpful for all Iraqis who have missing persons in their families and we will be ready for any kind of work required from our office to help them," Jortiar Acram, from the missing people office of the IRCS, told IRIN.

Families have high hopes of the new project. Some have already gone to go to the MoHR for more information but plans are still at the developmental stage, though it is hoped the centre will open soon.

"My son disappeared five years ago and we never had any information about him again. I wish that he is still alive. God bless him wherever he is," Suha Luai, 52, told IRIN.


Other recent IRAQ reports:

Barbers threatened by hardliners,  24/Mar/05

Interview with the UN Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi,  24/Mar/05

Extra semester for Fallujah students,  22/Mar/05

Demonstrators defy eviction,  22/Mar/05

Focus on threats against progressive women,  21/Mar/05

Other recent Democracy-Human Rights-Peace Security reports:

COTE D IVOIRE: UN demands inquiry into 13 torture deaths, 16/Mar/05

SIERRA LEONE: Third war crimes trial starts, AFRC leaders in dock, 7/Mar/05

IRAQ: Gypsies call for greater rights, 3/Mar/05

GUINEA: Newspaper editor and lawyer detained, 17/Feb/05

IRAQ: Thousands were unable to vote in north, 9/Feb/05

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