Military conflicts and racial, religious and political persecutions have caused the disappearance of many persons whose deaths cannot be established with certainty. This international situation has produced difficulties of a legal nature, in addition to the human suffering of friends and relatives, which have placed a great number of people in a variety of precarious positions. There are some whose personal status may be affected by the survival or death of the missing person. There are relatives or friends desirous of adopting the minor children of the missing person. There are persons who may be entitled to, or have an interest in, some part or all of the missing person's entire estate under a will or intestacy; or who may be entitled to, or have an interest in, some property whose disposition may depend either on the survival or death or on the date of death of the missing person.
The tragic circumstances of missing persons are complicated by the fact that sovereign states, by virtue of their constitutions or laws, may be obliged to act on behalf of the missing, or their families, to search for and claim bodies, or to search for and claim its living citizens if they have been detained illegally by other countries. In addition, the States may be obliged to seek redress in the latter events. Instances of missing persons apply internationally to prisoners of war, hostages, and impressed labourers; and nationally to persecuted politicals and minorities. Great numbers of civilians may also disappear in war-time or as a result of tidal waves, earthquakes, and other disasters.