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New strategies needed to combat enforced disappearances, says UN expert group

Olivier de Frouville, Chairperson of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.
UN Photo/Violaine Martin
Olivier de Frouville, Chairperson of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance.

New strategies needed to combat enforced disappearances, says UN expert group

A panel of independent United Nations experts have called for new strategies to tackle enforced or involuntary disappearances and highlighted the impunity that prevails for this crime.

“The changing situation of enforced disappearances requires new strategies to counter this crime,” said the members of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which held its 100th session this week in New York.

“It is not a crime of the past; on the contrary it is a phenomenon which affects all regions of the world, with the false and pernicious belief that it is a useful tool to preserve national security and combat terrorism or organized crime,” they added.

The Group was established in 1980 by the UN Commission on Human Rights – the predecessor to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council – to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It seeks to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned to ensure cases are investigated.

In a news release issued at the close of its current session, the experts urged that efforts be strengthened to ensure prompt identification and qualification of cases of enforced disappearances, which is essential to hold perpetrators of this crime accountable.

They also emphasized the importance of preserving collective and individual memories and of expanding the use of forensic expertise and DNA testing in seeking the truth behind disappearances.

“One by one, the disappeared will be reclaimed. The Working Group is the guarantor of this need and the keeper of this promise,” its Chair-Rapporteur, Olivier de Frouville of France, said at a special event held on Monday to mark the 100th session.

Mr. de Frouville also noted that enforced disappearance is not an accident, but rather a “premeditated crime” that warrants punishment. “We need to find new strategies to eliminate the crime of enforced disappearance and find the truth about all cases of disappearances of the past. It is our responsibility.”

The event, which was held in cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and with the support of the Permanent Missions of Argentina and France, was also addressed by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, who emphasized the Group’s importance as a tool for families seeking assistance in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons.

Mr. Šimonović recalled his own region, the Balkans, where tens of thousands were reported missing during the war and where enforced disappearances “remain an open wound for relatives that are still waiting to learn the fate of their loved ones.”

During its current session, the experts examined, under their urgent action procedure, 17 reported cases of enforced disappearances that have occurred in the last six months, as well as more than 400 newly reported or existing cases.

The cases under review concerned Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Belarus, the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), El Salvador, Honduras, Kuwait, Laos, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.

In addition, the Group discussed how to improve its methods of work, forthcoming and potential country visits, including preparations for a visit to Spain in September, and future activities. It also held meetings with family members of disappeared persons and non-governmental organizations, and informal bilateral meetings with States to exchange information.

The Group also comprises Ariel Dulitzky from Argentina, Jasminka Dzumhur from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Osman El-Hajjé from Lebanon, and Jeremy Sarkin from South Africa. Its next session will be held in Geneva from 4 to 13 November 2013.