Tue, Jan 18, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Iraq asks help in finding a million who disappeared


Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin has urged the international community to help his government find and identify 1 million Iraqis believed to have disappeared during the rule of former president Saddam Hussein.

"Thousands of Iraqi families are searching for the truth, for the bones and skeletons of their loved ones so they can bury them with dignity and mourn them in a marked and final resting place," Amin told officials and forensic experts taking part in a seminar on Sunday, which was designed for the setting up of a National Center for Missing and Disappeared Persons.

He pointed out that his country lacked the technical know-how to carry out this arduous duty on its own.

"This is going to be a complex task since we have a severe shortage of forensic pathologists and not a single DNA laboratory to help identify bodies we discover in mass graves," Amin said.

The two-day policy group meeting is co-sponsored by the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, the UN Development Program and the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights.

It seeks to examine the current status of missing people in Iraq and explore mechanisms for intervention, participants said.

The group will recommend to the Iraqi government the legal, institutional and administrative framework as well as financial proposals for the center's establishment, they added.

Also attending the meeting were representatives of countries affected by the issue of missing nationals, notably Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Thousands of people were reported missing in Iraq in the 25 years under Saddam's rule, particularly during the Iraq-Iran war, the 1991 hostilities over Kuwait and the subsequent Shiite uprising in southern Iraq and the ongoing conflict in the country.

Amin reported the discovery of 288 mass graves around the country after the US-led military coalition deposed Saddam in April 2003.

He said that his government was trying to benefit from the experience of Kuwait, Kosovo and Bosnia, where civil war resulted in hundreds of mass graves.

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