Enforced disappearances turn ‘humans into non-humans,’ says UN expert

26 February 2010

Enforced disappearances continue to be one of the worst human rights violations, a United Nations independent expert said today, marking the 30th anniversary of the creation of a body to look into the scourge.

“While many people think this is a practice of the past, it has become a global problem affecting all continents of the world,” said Jeremy Sarkin, who chairs the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

The practice, he emphasized, “turns humans into non-humans.”

Previously, enforced disappearances were the product of military dictatorships, but Mr. Sarkin said that they are “nowadays perpetrated in complex situations of internal conflict, especially as a means of political repression of opponents.”

Since its creation by the UN Commission on Human Rights on 29 February 1980, the Working Group has dealt with more than 50,000 cases in over 80 countries. It seeks to set up a communication channel between families and concerned governments to make sure that cases are investigated to clarify the whereabouts of people who, having disappeared, are outside the protection of the law.

The five-member body continues to work on cases of disappearances until they are solved.

However, the practice is still severely underreported due to a lack of knowledge about the international human rights system, lack of access to it and obstacles faced by victims’ families in obtaining redress.

Three decades after its inception, the Working Group called on States in a statement to “undertake all possible efforts to prevent and eradicate this heinous practice and to bring to justice all those believed to be responsible for the crime of enforced disappearances.”

It also urged nations “to refrain from any act of intimidation or reprisals against those persons who contribute to the eradication of enforced disappearances, and to fight against impunity.”

Mr. Sarkin stressed that the UN can play its part by adopting 30 August as the International Day of the Disappeared “to ensure that there is more attention to the practice and the means available to prevent and eradicate it.”

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UN experts spotlight growing tragedy of enforced disappearances

A group of United Nations independent experts have highlighted the growing number of enforced disappearances worldwide, a terrible practice that it says remains underreported and has a particular impact on women and children.