Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Briefing on Protection of Civilians: Missing Persons in Armed Conflict

Mr President,

I would like to thank the Operations Director Ms Reena Ghelani of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Mr. Peter Maurer, for their insightful briefings.

South Africa co-sponsored and supported the adoption of the Resolution on Missing Persons in Armed Conflict (Res/2474).

Let me commence by welcoming the convening of the Council meeting on this matter, which for the first time, is a stand-alone item, giving it the due attention, it solely deserves. We would like to thank you H.E Deputy Prime Minister and the Kuwait presidency for efforts in focusing attention on this crucial matter. Kuwait has had the unfortunate misfortune of having first-hand experience of the devastating impact and trauma of missing persons in conflict situations and many other countries around the world.

While South Africa acknowledges the important role that this Council can play with regard to addressing this phenomenon, especially relating to addressing the root causes of armed conflict, which gives rise to missing persons, we would like to emphasise that the primary responsibility resides with states themselves, to ensure that the people within their respective borders are accounted for and protected, registers of prisoners of war are well kept, graves of those who died are preserved and properly marked. Modern technology can assist us to accurately identify the mortal remains.

We take this opportunity to welcome the positive role played by the International Committee for the Red Cross to assist national actors, where needed, to locate missing persons and to provide support for related matters in addressing this concerning phenomenon, including in communicating with families of missing persons where possible.

We are deeply concerned by the rise of incidents of missing persons in armed conflict. The impact of this problem extends beyond the victims themselves and has a lasting and prolonged impact on the affected families and communities. We have to also take cognisance that, in situations of armed conflict and in the context of missing persons, the most vulnerable, particularly women, children, the elderly and disabled are most affected. The uncertainty around missing persons is deeply traumatic and requires due attention by national authorities, regional mechanisms and the broader international community.

Mr President,

South Africa believes that international cooperation on this matter is indispensable, especially in terms of technical developments and cooperation, which may assist in locating missing persons.

Drawing from our own experience, South Africa would like to underscore the important role of truth, justice and accountability for consolidating peace gains, reconciliation and sustainable peace. In light of this, we would like to highlight the importance of addressing the repatriation of the mortal remains back to their country of origin. In this way, it assists with the process of healing and finding closure for the affected families and communities.

We believe that as a matter related to the protection of civilians, the issue of missing persons suffers from the same problems relating to the lack of implementation of International Humanitarian Law. At this juncture, we wish to highlight the prominence of the respective provisions of the Geneva Convention of 1949 in guiding the responsibilities of States and parties during armed conflict. In this regard, we would like to emphasise the importance of accountability mechanisms, which focus on building national and regional capacity.

I thank you.

Source: Department of International Relations and Cooperation