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Stefan Schmitt Discusses "Day of Disappeared" on BBC

on August 30, 2011

PHR’s Director of the International Forensic Program, Stefan Schmitt, recently appeared in an interview with the BBC World Service to discuss the UN International Day of the Disappeared. Schmitt spoke of attempting to provide identification for many of the “disappeared” in Rwanda, victims of the genocide there in 1994. He discussed the inherent difficulties of such a task from a number of standpoints, whether it be the sheer number of bodies, a lack of technical capacity for proper DNA and other forensic identification, identifying surviving family members, or simply not having a record of who is actually missing.

 “You have such a huge number of victims, bodies just everywhere on the streets, fields of bones...oftentimes if you want to return these remains back to their relatives, that becomes increasingly more difficult once these types of scenes have been disturbed...there were no relatives left anymore in many instances,” said Schmitt.

Schmitt explains the importance of providing identification of the victims to their family members. He explains how access to a loved one’s remains, even if it is just clothing or jewelry, and answers to the multitude of questions surrounding their death can help to provide closure and a sense of peace, “…your body is a big part of how your family deals with the fact that you died and the aftermath of that.” 

Today is the first International Day of the Disappeared. The day was created to spotlight the upcoming 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN General Assembly of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Enforced Disappearances are short and long-term detainment, or outright murder, of individuals or groups by State authorities to suppress a population’s legitimate concerns or demands.  Regardless of who uses it, how it is employed, or what justifications are proffered, such unspeakable violations of human rights cannot be tolerated and PHR stands with the UN and the global community in continuing to raise awareness about this vital issue.

Listen to Schmitt discuss the Day of the Disappeared on BBC.

Places: United States