Alan Aeschli­mann: “We hope that a com­mis­sion for the miss­ing per­sons will be cre­ated in Ukraine”

“We hope that a com­mis­sion for the miss­ing per­sons will be cre­ated in Ukraine”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Zhanna Bezpi­atchuk

Head of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross mis­sion to Ukraine on the search for the miss­ing peo­ple and co­op­er­a­tion with au­thor­i­ties

At least a thou­sand fam­i­lies are cur­rently look­ing for their rel­a­tives that have gone miss­ing on both sides of the con­tact line in East­ern Ukraine. 96% of these miss­ing are men, half of them not re­lated to any sort of mil­i­tary ser­vice. This is the data pro­vided by the In­ter­na­tional Com­mit­tee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ukraine.

Some fam­i­lies have al­ready gone through all cir­cles of hell: from in­dif­fer­ence and in­ac­tion of of­fi­cials to re-burial of the unknown mil­i­tary whose iden­tity even DNA tests failed to de­ter­mine re­li­ably. Hope­ful, these fam­i­lies turn to the ICRC. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is en­gaged in look­ing for those miss­ing. Mis­sion Head Alan Aeschli­mann speaks to The Ukrainian Week about how the fam­i­lies of those miss­ing can exit the vi­cious cir­cle and how to look for peo­ple.

What role does the ICRC mis­sion play to­day when it comes to search­ing for the miss­ing peo­ple on both sides of the con­flict in East­ern Ukraine?

– In Ukraine peo­ple don't speak much about this is­sue. There are more dis­cus­sions about de­tained per­sons than miss­ing ones. At cease­fire there is nor­mally re­lease or trans­fer of de­tainees. Only at the end par­ties start look­ing at those un­ac­counted for and miss­ing. Now the Red Cross is work­ing on both is­sues in par­al­lel. It is im­por­tant to raise aware­ness about the plight of the miss­ing. At least two thou­sand peo­ple are miss­ing in Ukraine. We are speak­ing about the whole con­text - gov­ern­men­tal and non-gov­ern­men­tal sides. For each miss­ing per­son there are two-three mem­bers of their close fam­ily. Ev­ery per­son also has ex­tended fam­ily. In fact, this is a large num­ber of peo­ple who are af­fected.

The ICRC has been re­quested sev­eral times in Donetsk ar­eas that are not con­trolled by the govern­ment to be present while re­triev­ing bod­ies. It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the party con­trol­ling cer­tain ar­eas to gather the re­mains of dead peo­ple. On our side, we are able to pro­vide some ad­vice, sup­port to man­age the col­lec­tion of the body. There are many nu­ances that could help to iden­tify a per­son. We did this also in Luhansk and on the govern­ment-con­trolled side.

Does the ICRC get suf­fi­cient se­cu­rity guar­an­tees and ac­cess in the ter­ri­tory con­trolled by the Rus­sian and sep­a­ratist forces?

– We have of­fices in Donetsk and Luhansk. We have daily ac­tiv­i­ties across the front­line pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance to per­sons and lo­cal­i­ties. So, we have some se­cu­rity guar­an­tees from all sides. When we or­ga­nize field trips to Donetsk, to Hor­livka, we send some no­ti­fi­ca­tions to all sides. If we don't get any nega­tive feed­back, we are go­ing. We are do­ing this to get in­for­ma­tion if there is risk for our peo­ple. Some­times there is shelling at some places. We don't want to ex­pose out staff to dan­ger.

The dis­cus­sion is go­ing on in Ukraine whether or not NGOs have to be granted the right to search for miss­ing peo­ple in­de­pen­dently or this right could be as­cribed only to pub­lic au­thor­i­ties. The re­spec­tive leg­isla­tive ini­tia­tive is be­ing pre­pared. Mean­while, rel­a­tives of the miss­ing peo­ple point out that they re­ceive real help only from NGOs and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions. The au­thor­i­ties mostly demon­strate in­ac­tion. What is your opin­ion on this is­sue?

– It is clear that the main re­spon­si­bil­ity is with pub­lic au­thor­i­ties, they have to lead a process. It is a very com­plex process, and there are many le­gal is­sues to it. In many coun­tries it is the po­lice who deal with crim­i­nal as­pects of this prob­lem. There are sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions which are in­volved. In Ukraine, you have very strong and dy­namic civil so­ci­ety or­ga­ni­za­tions. In some ar­eas they supplement the au­thor­i­ties and do a very good job. But this has to be done un­der the co­or­di­na­tion of the au­thor­i­ties and un­der their um­brella.

How­ever, it is im­por­tant that the re­cov­ery of bod­ies, their man­age­ment and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion are led by the au­thor­i­ties. We un­der­stand that fam­i­lies of the miss­ing per­sons have huge anx­i­ety, and for them it is nec­es­sary to speak to some­body. They meet of­fi­cials and feel they don’t re­ceive enough in­for­ma­tion on the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion process. NGOs could com­pen­sate this for fam­i­lies by pro­vid­ing them with in­for­ma­tion of pos­si­ble pro­ce­dures and by shar­ing the em­pa­thy.

How would you as­sess the ICRC's co­op­er­a­tion with the SBU, the Min­istry of In­te­rior, the Gen­eral Pros­e­cu­tor's Of­fice and other Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties? Do they help to solve the prob­lems that you are tack­ling?

– I would say that we are very sat­is­fied with this co­op­er­a­tion. There are still is­sues that can and should be im­proved. The first one is co­or­di­na­tion of all au­thor­i­ties in­volved. There is no sin­gle author­ity in charge of the is­sue of miss­ing peo­ple. The Se­cret Ser­vice is in charge of some miss­ing peo­ple but not all of them. The Min­istry of De­fense is in­volved with re­gard to the miss­ing mem­bers of the armed forces. We have to co­op­er­ate with the Min­istry of the In­te­rior send­ing them the in­for­ma­tion on iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. There is the Foren­sic Re­search In­sti­tute in Dnipro which is in charge of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of bod­ies. The Min­istry of So­cial Pol­icy is in­volved in some cases with re­gard to pen­sions. The work of all these bod­ies has to be co­or­di­nated. This is im­por­tant. At this stage the co­or­di­na­tion has not been es­tab­lished yet. We hope that some kind of com­mis­sion for the miss­ing per­sons will be cre­ated in Ukraine.

Is there a need also in a reg­istry of miss­ing per­sons?

– It is im­por­tant to have some reg­istry where you have all in­for­ma­tion with re­gard to the miss­ing peo­ple. Whether it should be pub­lic or not is de­bat­able. Ideally, you need to have a con­sol­i­dated list with Luhansk and Donetsk ar­eas. It is clear that you might have bod­ies on one side of the con­flict and the fam­ily liv­ing on the other side. So, it is im­por­tant that you do not just say that a cer­tain num­ber of peo­ple are miss­ing on the gov­ern­men­tal side and a cer­tain num­ber - in Luhansk and Donetsk. These lists have to be put to­gether.

If there is no con­sol­i­dated in­for­ma­tion and pre­cise fig­ures, we can rely at least on the num­ber of cases that the ICRC deals with.

– Speak­ing on be­half of the ICRC, there are 472 per­sons that con­tacted us. They are peo­ple who don't have in­for­ma­tion. So, they came to us. Some cases are very re­cent. The oth­ers have lasted since July 2014. There are some cases that we can solve be­cause it turns out, for ex­am­ple, that a per­son was ar­rested. Some­times the au­thor­i­ties in­form us that the fam­i­lies have found their miss­ing rel­a­tive. We al­ways get some cases closed and re­ceive some new ones. Now we are launch­ing the ad­di­tional cam­paign to in­form peo­ple that we are work­ing on this prob­lem, and that they can con­tact our of­fices. We can help to work on con­sol­i­dated lists of miss­ing peo­ple and share them with the govern­ment, with civil so­ci­ety.

Is the pro­ce­dure for the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of tem­po­rar­ily non­in­den­ti­fied Ukrainian sol­diers ef­fi­cient enough, from your point of you? Some rel­a­tives of the miss­ing peo­ple say that even DNA tests do not pro­vide cer­tain re­sults, so the rel­a­tives had to ac­cept the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion re­sults de­spite doubts. They are de­nied the chance to dou­ble check it in­de­pen­dently.

– We are speak­ing in this case about mass ca­su­al­ties. It could be com­pared with the air­plane crash. It is very spe­cific. Usu­ally coun­tries are equipped for in­di­vid­ual cases. When we have huge num­bers of ca­su­al­ties like this, all coun­tries face in­cred­i­ble dif­fi­cul­ties. When Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina oc­curred in the USA, they needed some time to iden­tify per­sons. There have been a lot of im­prove­ments in the past 10-20 years con­cern­ing tech­ni­cal is­sues. The meth­ods that are used nowa­days are more re­li­able. But it is nec­es­sary to cross-check. When the body is re­cov­ered, it is nec­es­sary to gather all the in­for­ma­tion on the site and to make a proper foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tion of the re­mains. When all the in­for­ma­tion is col­lected, you con­firm it with the DNA test. We know that some fam­i­lies had prob­lems with that. We work with pro­fes­sion­als to ex­change the best prac­tices and to try to bring some in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. We trust pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions here. Trust is im­por­tant in this process. Trust on the other side of the con­flict is also im­por­tant when they send bod­ies for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and get test re­sults. I agree that it is a disas­ter when the body is sent to the fam­ily, and it turns out that it is not their rel­a­tive.

Does the ICRC have unim­peded ac­cess to im­pris­oned peo­ple on the ter­ri­to­ries con­trolled by sep­a­ratists in East­ern Ukraine, and in Ukraine in gen­eral?

– At the mo­ment, we have no ac­cess to de­tainees in the ar­eas not con­trolled by the govern­ment. This is some­thing we are work­ing on very hard. We hope that we will have such an ac­cess.

What is the main ob­sta­cle for this?

– It is a de­ci­sion that a party takes to grant us ac­cess or not. We can just try to con­vince and show why it is im­por­tant, and what kind of sup­port we can pro­vide to as­sure that peo­ple are treated with hu­man­ity and dig­nity. Since last Oc­to­ber, we have par­tic­i­pated in eight op­er­a­tions of re­lease of de­tainees. We are vis­it­ing de­tainees in re­la­tion to the con­flict on the govern­ment-con­trolled side. These are about 464 cases. But we don't have ac­cess to all of them. We are try­ing to get sys­tem­atic ac­cess to all de­tainees from the govern­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.