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Addressing a Global Challenge from The Hague

THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 30: Queen Noor of Jordan speaks at the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in the Peacepalace on October 30, 2013 in the Hague, Netherlands. (Photo by Helene Wiesenhaan/Getty Images for IMCP)

By Her Majesty Queen Noor, Dowager Queen of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Climate change has created challenges – including natural disasters, conflict over resources, and irregular mass migration – that compound deep-seated problems already facing the global community. This can seem overwhelming, yet, just as danger is generated by a world in flux, human ingenuity and resolve can deliver effective responses. And these responses can often be located at source – by addressing social, political, cultural and environmental issues, we can off-set geopolitical challenges further down the line. 

For much of my adult life I have worked to promote sustainable development, cross-cultural understanding and conflict prevention and recovery. My work in Jordan and the Arab world has focused on national and regional human security in areas such as education, conservation, poverty eradication, human rights and family and refugee health.

Initiatives advanced by the Noor Al Hussein and King Hussein Foundations have introduced best practice programs addressing women, youth and community empowerment, microfinance, and health, as well as the arts as a medium for social development and cross-cultural exchange. Internationally, I have focused on climate change and environmental conservation, refugees and Middle East peacebuilding, disarmament, and human security through various organizations and institutions and a stint as a UN expert advisor on implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. 

My Princeton degree in Architecture and Urban Planning, no doubt, has influenced my unorthodox, more holistic, integrated approach to the resolution of any of these distinct challenges over the past 40 years. This has certainly been the hallmark of the most successful post-conflict recovery work in the field of missing persons, a global challenge that I first became acquainted with when I visited the Balkans in 1996 to bring aid from Jordan to the survivors of the Srebrenica genocide. Since then, I have worked closely with families of the missing from Srebrenica and the Western Balkans as a Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP).

For more than two decades, ICMP has been helping countries and communities to respond – systematically and effectively – to the challenge of large numbers of missing persons. In 2015, ICMP moved its Headquarters to The Hague, where it is an active member of the diplomatic and intergovernmental community in the City of Peace.

Although it was established in 1996 to help authorities in the Western Balkans account for the 40,000 people who were missing as a result of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, in 2003, ICMP’s mandate was expanded, enabling it to work throughout the world and to deal with the issue of missing persons arising from disasters, human rights abuses, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes, as well as conflict.

In 2015, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium and Luxembourg were the founding signatories to the Agreement on the Status and Functions of the ICMP, and it was under the terms of the Agreement that the organization established its new Headquarters in The Hague.

There are many reasons to choose the Netherlands as a base of operations. Logistics and efficient infrastructure, of course – not to mention the extraordinarily positive character of Dutch society and the Dutch people. ICMP’s move to The Hague, however, was determined by a more specific consideration. Its mandate to secure the cooperation of governments required its relocation to a diplomatic hub. As an intergovernmental organization with a global remit, The Hague is ICMP’s natural home.

Today, ICMP has programs in the Western Balkans, Iraq, Syria, Colombia and Mexico. It is also working to address the issue of missing Mediterranean migrants. In addition to its country programs, ICMP deploys cross-cutting core programs in and from its Hague Headquarters. Institution and Civil Society Development, Science & Technology, Data Systems & Data Coordination, and Assistance to Justice, are complemented by ICMP’s Center for Excellence and Learning (CEL), which facilitates the transfer of knowledge and expertise to government and civil society stakeholders around the world. In September this year, the CEL was formally named after the late Wim Kok, the former Dutch Prime Minister, who died in October 2018 and who had been an ICMP Commissioner since 2002. 

The Commissioners wanted to honor Wim Kok because not only did he bring remarkable energy and commitment to ICMP’s mission, as an experienced political leader he consistently made the case for a systemic response to the complex global challenge of missing persons.

In the Balkans, ICMP led an effort that has made it possible to account for more than 70 percent of those who were missing, including 7,000 of the 8,000 who went missing after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995. The legacy of missing persons in other countries is even greater – as many as 100,000 may be missing from the conflict in Syria, more than 100,000 from the conflict in Colombia, between 250,000 and one million missing in Iraq – and this is just a snapshot. Societies across Africa and Asia are struggling to address huge numbers missing as a result of conflict, migration and disaster. 

The nature and the scale of the problem goes far beyond a short-term, humanitarian response. It has to be tackled in an integrated and sustained way over a long period and it has to have the needs and aspirations of victims at its center. I know this from my own experience.  

I have been in mass graves. I am still haunted by the memory. But I have also witnessed the courage and determination of those who were bereaved by those mass graves. Working for more than two decades with the Mothers of Srebrenica, I have witnessed and supported their proactive and resolute search for justice and truth.

The experience of families in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been mirrored across the Western Balkans and indeed across the world, where conflict or disaster or other causes have resulted in large numbers of missing persons.

The need for truth, the need for justice is universal, and survivors will work across ethnic, religious, political and economic divides – often more willingly and creatively than their political representatives – in order to establish what happened to the missing and to secure justice. 

Societies recovering from trauma will not make progress as long as large numbers of people are missing. Peace building efforts will be confounded as long as families of the missing do not know the fate of their loved ones. Governments will not secure and maintain the confidence of citizens if they fail to uphold the right to truth, to justice, and to compensation.

ICMP has developed an approach that is fundamentally embedded in upholding the rule of law and this is one of the things that make its mandate so distinct.

In November 2018, at the Peace Forum organized by French President Emmanuel Macron, ICMP unveiled a set of eight Paris Principles derived from the Declaration on the Role of the State in Addressing the Issue of Persons Missing as a Consequence of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Abuse, which was signed by four heads of government from Southeast Europe in the summer of 2014.

The Paris Principles assert that resolving the fate of missing and disappeared persons and protecting persons against disappearance are integral to fulfilling the responsibility of states to support peace, reconciliation and social cohesion, and are key elements in upholding basic human rights. The Principles highlight the fact that missing persons investigations must be capable of establishing the facts, and that cooperation among states and international institutions is indispensable. They also emphasize that persons who go missing or are victims of enforced disappearance are entitled to protection under the law, regardless of citizenship or residence status, and that all measures to address the issue of missing migrants, for example, must uphold and advance the rule of law.

Accounting for the missing is a moral obligation, but it is also – and this is crucial – a legal obligation; fulfilling this obligation advances and strengthens the rule of law. This is ICMP’s operating principle: it is a principle entirely consistent with the ethos embraced by the community of organizations that, like ICMP, have their Headquarters in The Hague.   


Her Majesty Queen Noor is an international public servant and advocate for cross-cultural understanding and conflict prevention and recovery issues such as refugees, missing persons, poverty, climate change and disarmament. Her peace-building work has focused on the Middle East, the Balkans, Central and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. Her Majesty has been a Commissioner of the International Commission on Missing Persons since June 2001.


Photography by Helene Wiesenhaan/Getty Images for IMCP.

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