The purpose of The Last Rights Project since its inception has been to produce a set of clear and above all practical guidelines, grounded in international law, which everyone working with and having responsibilities to the missing, the dead and their families, can use to help ensure that their rights are guaranteed, whether this is at an immediate, local level or in the development of national and transnational working arrangements and systems.
From the moment a person sets out on a journey as a migrant, forced or unforced, they encounter many obstacles, hazards and perils, often deadly, both natural and man-made, along the way. If these are not danger enough, they are compounded by border enforcement practices and policies, dysfunctional protection systems and disconnected bureaucracies.
From the moment a person goes missing, or is known to have died, their families face a gargantuan struggle: to cope with the immediate aftermath; to seek information and to search for their loved ones; to engage with complex official systems; to ensure that their loved ones are identified and to come to terms with their loss.
At every stage on this, second, psychological journey, which sometimes follows the physical journey and sometimes takes place in parallel to it, our international systems have been found to lack the essential understanding, resources and cooperative measures needed to make a tragic experience one which can at least be conducted with respect , compassion and effectiveness and which serves the need of the missing and the dead to be found, and for their families to feel that the dignity of their loved ones has been respected and justice has been done.
In the 3 years since the Last Rights Project embarked on this initiative, we have witnessed at first hand the psychological trauma suffered by bereaved families and families who have no answers to what happened. We have seen families separated from each other by international borders, seeking to engage with multiple authorities without any form of assistance. We have seen bodies piled in makeshift morgues without resources to preserve them, or identify the cause of death. We have seen families without any assistance to receive counselling for their losses, unable to engage with legal systems to pursue an inquiry, without the means to look after themselves during extraordinarily difficult times, often in makeshift so-called refugee and humanitarian camps, left to grieve alone. We have seen families unable to bury their loved ones in the way they would wish, unable to have their loved ones repatriated or taken to a resting place of their choosing. We have seen injustice caused by the absence of safe systems of information sharing, leading families to fear for their own safety if they engage with authorities. We have seen those who put themselves on the frontline of emergency rescue and support who have been obstructed and prosecuted for their humanitarian actions.
This draft set of principles and guidelines is addressed at resolution of these problems.
The Mytilini Declaration as we hope it will be known, consists of four protocols brought together in one document, each concerning an aspect of these issues. Necessarily there is some overlap as all the issues we have identified are connected and inter-related. We have tried to keep the language clear and accessible, whether as a relative looking for a loved one, or their representatives or as an official working within an NGO or state agency with particular responsibilities at any stage of the process.
An explanatory statement and glossary/definitions will follow. At this stage, it is important to note that references to migrants include refugees and asylum seekers. The definition of family is key and is intended to be wide and include not only spouses and children, but also parents of children and adult children; grandparents; adult siblings; partners who can show a relationship/connection, and indeed, second degree relatives or even non-relatives where a child is an orphan or where a person has been treated as a child of the family or otherwise as a family member. Also, it is vital that there be no discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people and their families.
Indeed, there is no one particular process but many, and all of them impact upon each other. But for all families, irrespective of place and circumstance, there is a beginning, a middle and there should be an end, although where a family member remains missing, closure can be difficult if not impossible to achieve. Our work seeks to put the needs of families first and foremost at all stages.
These guidelines propose some common principles and basic standards, procedural safeguards and content that we believe can work in any jurisdiction, in any culture and across any boundaries, professional, national and transnational.
They are based on several years of our personal observations in the field: in the Mediterranean region, in Central and North America, in Northern Europe and in Africa, from written works, research and discussions with experts in academia, government agencies, NGOs, international agencies and independent monitoring bodies, across a wide range of disciplines from forensic scientists to social anthropologists and philosophers, lawyers, clinicians and criminologists, faith leaders and funeral celebrants, political representatives, front line human rights defenders, rescuers and humanitarian aid volunteers, with refugee and migrant community groups and most importantly with families of the missing and the bereaved.
We acknowledge and are grateful for the work of others on which we have drawn. In particular, though by no means limited to, we acknowledge the excellent work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for example “Missing Migrants and their Families: ICRC Recommendations to Policy Makers, 2017; of Interpol, for example, the Disaster Victim Identification Unit Family Liaison Strategy; of the IMO, UNHCR, and the contributions to this field of many others without whose prior efforts we would not yet have reached this stage today.
The guidelines represent the sum of these experiences, with the confidence that the foundations are solidly built upon existing international human rights laws and norms, and as such do not require any states or bodies or individuals to do more than their existing international legal obligations demand.
Of course, in presenting a new way of approaching an age-old problem, there will inevitably be new demands made on resources, and ways of working that require new forms of cooperation between departments and nations. We have increasingly globalised systems in so many areas of life, from commerce to security but we do not have one for the bereaved and the missing. Technology, together with sensible, sensitive and timely cooperation make this possible. These guidelines in our view can significantly help to create that system.
We are aware that there will be differences of approach and of opinion on what should be done, how and by whom. These proposals are a first draft designed to begin a conversation on what the final guidelines will look like. We may have inadvertently omitted areas of concern or over-elaborated in others. It may be that we need to suggest more detailed procedural steps or fewer. We are open to all suggestions and constructive criticism.
We are asking input from you at this stage in relation to just three basic aspects:
1. Any comments on the actual content of the draft document
2. Any omissions that you feel should be included
3. Any more general comments about the wider context of the proposed guidelines
Once we have received online comments we will then produce a 2nd draft reflecting these comments. We will then circulate the revised text to the Expert Working Group members who will be taking part in the final drafting of the document on Lesvos on 11th and 12th May and to those who wish to comment further although unable to join us on Lesbos.
The online consultation is due to close on Friday 30 March 2018.
Once the final text has been agreed we hope to be able to publish and present the final Mytilini Declaration publicly and for dissemination globally, accompanied by a Glossary and Explanatory Note to amplify and put into context its provisions.
We thank you in advance for your help. Please indicate on the reply form should you wish your contribution to remain unattributed.
The Consultation is open until Friday 30th March 2018
This is the Draft Protocol document.