UN marks ‘Day of Disappeared’ with calls for action on missing persons

UN marks ‘Day of Disappeared’ with calls for action on missing persons

Marking the International Day of the Disappeared, United Nations officials today voiced concern about the plight of persons who have been forced to go missing and called for action to help them.

The Geneva-based UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which since its establishment in 1980 has submitted more than 50,000 individual cases to Governments in more than 90 countries, today issued a statement decrying the problem.

“The Working Group is deeply concerned about the large number of reports of enforced disappearances that have been submitted over the past year. Many reports have been received of the disappearance of children and, in a few cases, of people with physical and mental disabilities.”

The five-member Group also called attention to threats against human rights defenders, relatives of disappeared persons, witnesses and legal counsel, and said that anti -terrorist activities “are being used by an increasing number of States as an excuse for not respecting the obligations of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Disappearance.”

Certain mechanisms aimed at promoting “truth and reconciliation” have given rise to the enactment of amnesty laws and the implementation of other measures that lead to impunity, the Group said.

Voicing concern that very few States have created a specific criminal offence of enforced disappearance, the Group urged States to treat all acts of enforced disappearance as offences under criminal law punishable by appropriate penalties. It also welcomed a draft treaty on the issue and recommended that the UN General Assembly adopt it.

Meanwhile in Kosovo, the Acting Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Steven Schook, took the occasion to call on all concerned to join together in efforts to determine the fate of persons still missing from the conflict in that province, where NATO troops drove out Yugoslav forces in 1999.

“As family members of persons missing from the conflict in Kosovo join voices with thousands of others across the world to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, resolving the issue of missing persons remains a top priority for us,” he said.

While considerable progress has been made in reducing the number of missing in Kosovo by half, approximately 2,300 persons are still physically unaccounted for, according to the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).

Mr. Schook said UNMIK will continue to support the Kosovo Ministry of Justice in carrying out investigations of events of disappearance and more thorough searches for the unidentified.