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28-08-2012 | Middle East

International Day of the Disappeared: Libya

As Libya attempts to recover from the conflict last year, wounds remain raw. On the international day of the disappeared (August 30th), thousands of Libyan families still have no answers over the fate of missing family members who went missing as a consequence of the conflict and the former regime.
Ossama's search for his father
A year ago, as Tripoli was under heavy fighting, Ossama Al Haloj's father disappeared. Ossama and his family searched everywhere to find out what happened to their father: "We found this picture on Youtube showing three dead bodies. That's him (my father). He is wearing the same clothes he was wearing when he left home."

From clues such as a bullet hole in the wall and the colour of the pavement, Ossama concluded his father's death happened during the battle for Bab Al-Aziziya. Witnesses living nearby also confirmed they saw Ossama's father killed, along with others. "This is where he was shot in the head," says Ossama. The person suspected of killing Ossama's father has recently been arrested but the search for his body continues. Ossama says: "Of course, it is important to know where his remains are, so we can go and visit his grave and anyway, just to know."

Sisters Sumaya and Awatif search for their three brothers. Sisters Soumaya and Awatif Bin Jabr are also desperately looking for missing family members.

Around the same time that Ossama's father was killed, a suspected mass grave was at last accessible where over 1,200 prisoners disappeared in Abu Salim prison in 1996. Soumaya and Awatif suspect their three brothers were among those killed.

For 12 years, until 2008, they lived with the hope their brothers were still alive. Awatif explains the agony of not knowing: "There's a difference when a body is handed to you after a death, and you know it is the person and you accept his death and mourn. But it's different when they take him away, imprison him, kill and bury him and you don't know really what happened - this really hurts."

In 2008, the family was given a death certificate that they believe was fake with false causes of death. None of the families of the missing prisoners have ever received the human remains and there are many gruesome rumours about what happened to the bodies: The two sisters are doing all they can to get the mortal remains. "What we're asking for is their bodies," says Soumaya, "so we can bury them in accordance with Islamic law and near us so we can visit their graves."

ICRC and the missing

ICRC Protection Coordinator Laurent Saugy says families from all sides of the conflict are affected by the agony of missing relatives: "Libya went through several events where relatives went missing, disappeared, were arrested or died and families simply do not know. They do not have the means to reach closure. It is not only a question of legal obligation, but it is a humane question."

Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of relatives of the missing are not able to move on, remarry, claim inheritance or simply conduct funerals without a death certificate or the mortal remains.

Under international humanitarian law, families of missing persons have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. The ICRC continues to support the Ministry for the Affairs of Martyrs' Families and Missing Persons to find out what happened to people who went missing. It provides advice, training and operational support for the recovery and identification of human remains.

The ICRC is a neutral, impartial and independent organization with an exclusively humanitarian mandate: to protect the lives and dignity of people (including the deceased) affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance.

The ICRC is not involved in political or religious activities of any kind, neither in Libya nor anywhere else. It has a presence in 80 countries around the world.

Duration : 3m 54s
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On Screen Credit: ICRC or logo

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