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Bougainville, Papua New Guinea: Remembering the missing 20 years on

29/01/2016

The 1989–1997 civil war in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, left up to 20,000 people dead, while many of those who vanished during the violence are still unaccounted for. Their loved ones are left in the dark about their fate.

Today, many people in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville still have no answers about what happened to their loved ones who went missing during the conflict more than 20 years ago.
 
The ICRC, together with the Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society in Bougainville, helps families of missing persons to raise awareness of their plight and organize remembrance ceremonies, such as to commemorate International Day of the Disappeared.
 
 
Relatives of missing persons holding flowers, waiting to take part in a silent march in Arawa.
© Rocky Roe Photographics
 
To mark the 2015 International Day of the Disappeared, families of missing persons in Bougainville and local Red Cross volunteers organized events in two different locations, Arawa and Buka, with the support of the ICRC.

On 28 August a silent march took place through the town of Arawa, followed by a gathering in the local park where speeches and first-hand accounts were delivered by families of missing persons, local politicians and ICRC representatives.

In Buka, the president and the vice president of the Autonomous Bougainville Government joined the families of the Missing Persons Association, the Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society, politicians, activists, the media and the general public in ceremonies, which lasted non-stop for more than 36 hours.

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“We want to know the fate of our sons and brothers so that the families can find closure in their search for their loved ones,” said Chief Peter Garuai, chairman of the Davoru Besi Family Association in Arawa. “We also want the government to acknowledge the issue of missing persons in Bougainville.”

“This issue is only just beginning to be recognized as a humanitarian priority in Papua New Guinea by all stakeholders, including both governments,” said Gauthier Lefèvre, ICRC head of mission in Papua New Guinea. “There are still many practical problems that need to be addressed, as well as the emotional suffering of the families.”

The ICRC works closely with the authorities in Bougainville and with other organizations, including the Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society, to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons.

The Bougainville Government unanimously adopted a missing persons policy on 30 September 2014, putting the emphasis on the needs of families, but the policy remains to be implemented. For more information, please see Papua New Guinea: Bougainville government adopts missing persons policy.

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