UN experts urge greater support to bring global pact on disappearances into force

30 August 2010

The United Nations experts tasked with assisting families determine the fate or whereabouts of disappeared relatives is urging States to define enforced disappearances as a crime and to help bring the international treaty dealing with this scourge into force.

The International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2006, has been signed by 83 countries and ratified by 19 so far. It needs just one more ratification before it can enter into force.

In a statement to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, which is observed today, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances urged States that have not yet signed and/or ratified the convention to do so as soon as possible.

The treaty defines an enforced disappearance as the arrest, detention, abduction or other form of deprivation of liberty by the State followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or the concealment of the whereabouts of the disappeared person.

The Working Group also urged the international community to continue promoting and supporting the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was adopted in 1992.

In addition, the five-member body is urging States to define enforced disappearance as a separate and autonomous criminal offence and to bring domestic legislation in line with the declaration.

“This would significantly contribute to the prevention and eradication of this odious practice,” the group stated.

Describing enforced disappearances as “a scourge which must be eradicated,” Jeremy Sarkin, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group, said greater efforts are needed to deal with the problem.

“By employing enforced disappearances as a tactic, governments instil fear and terror into the populace. It creates confusion and panic in the society. Victims’ families may not even attempt to seek information about their loved ones out of fear that they will suffer a similar fate,” he said.

The Working Group, which was set up in 1980, strives to establish a channel of communication between the families and the governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law.

In addition to Mr. Sarkin, the Group is comprised of Ariel Dulitzky of Argentina, Jasminka Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Olivier de Frouville of France, and Osman El-Hajjé of Lebanon.

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