This year, February 28, marked the 28th anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation from the Iraqi occupation from 1990 to 1991. Every year, that date brings the Kuwaiti and Iraqi people who went missing during that time to the forefront of public consciousness. Kuwait and Iraq have since resolved a number of outstanding matters, most notably the border demarcation issue between the two countries. However, the question of missing persons has been at a standstill since 2004. Hundreds of Kuwaitis and Iraqis are still missing.
Kuwait continues to demand that Iraq disclose the fate of missing persons and war prisoners. In 1991, the two countries signed two memoranda of understanding with the International Committee of the Red Cross which established a tripartite committee to search for missing Iraqis and Kuwaitis. At that time, Kuwait City submitted a list of 605 missing Kuwaitis while Baghdad submitted a list of 5,864 missing Iraqis to the tripartite committee.
Over the years, Kuwaitis have worked tirelessly to find their missing citizens and highlight the plight of their relatives, without success. Pictures of the missing people have been published in the media and presented to human right activists and committees visiting Kuwait. The country has also created a special museum called “Not to Forget,” which documents the Kuwaiti people’s suffering as a result of the Iraqi occupation.
What is known is that after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, many Kuwaitis were sent to Iraqi prisons. Those prisoners were never heard from again. Most of them were civilians who refused to cooperate with the occupying Iraqi forces, according to Kuwait’s National Committee for Missing and Prisoners of War Affairs. Since the end of the war in 1991, the committee has continued to request information about its missing citizens who have yet to be found.
The fate of some of the missing Kuwaitis was made public in August 2004 when Mohammed al-Haj Hammoud, a former official at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, revealed, in a statement to Al Jazeera, that “mass graves were unearthed, in cooperation with the UN, in the governorates of Basra, Nasiriyah, Najaf, and Hilla in the south of the country.” (Translation from Arabic)
In August 2004, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said that of the 605 missing Kuwaitis, 340 bodies had already been repatriated to Kuwait from Iraq after the Second Gulf War.
In August 2004, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had said that of the 605 missing Kuwaitis, 340 bodies had already been repatriated to Kuwait from Iraq after the Second Gulf War. But so far, Kuwait has maintained that the fate of only 236 missing persons has been disclosed, according to the country‘s Permanent Representative to the UN and Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi.
In his address to the Security Council on August 8, 2018, Al-Otaibi raised the issue and admitted that the council had spent years dealing with the effects of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but had long overlooked the issue of prisoners and missing people. He added that no new prisoners or missing persons had been identified and no progress made since 2004.
It is only recently that Iraq demonstrated its willingness to address the question. In mid-November 2018, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense renewed its generous financial rewards for anyone with information about missing Kuwaitis in Iraq or looting of property during the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Although tangible results “have not yet been achieved,” the Iraqi Ministry of Defense is committed “to carry out [more] excavation and exploration efforts,” the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Jan Kubis, promised during his briefing to the Security Council in August 2018.
Last November, Kuwait ended the work of the National Committee for Missing and Prisoners of War Affairs, which was established in 1992, and transferred its tasks to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The Kuwaiti government has neglected the humanitarian aspect of this issue and has only given compensation to some people and considered the missing people martyrs. However, Kuwait wants the file to remain open for political purposes,” an anonymous Kuwaiti journalist told Inside Arabia.
To this day, hundreds of families who lost their relatives during the First Gulf War are still confused, hurt, and uncertain, as they wait to hear what happened to their loved ones. Both the Kuwaiti and Iraqi governments have a responsibility to seek the truth and disclose the fate of these people. They must do all they can to bring closure to the families and put an end to their suffering.