Stressing that the enforced disappearance of individuals by States constitutes an unacceptable violation of human rights, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has declared that the time has come for the end to this “abhorrent” practice.
“Enforced disappearance is a practice that cannot be tolerated in the twenty-first century,” Mr. Ban said in a message to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, which is observed annually on 30 August.
“This abhorrent practice places people outside the protection of the law, and thus, potentially in great danger of physical violence and sometimes barbaric execution. In addition to causing unimaginable worry and anguish for the victims and their loved ones, this creates a generalized climate of fear and terror across entire societies,” he said.
Mr. Ban noted that enforced disappearance was once employed mainly by military dictatorships. “Increasingly, it has become a tool of many States around the world, some operating under counter-terror strategies, or fighting organized crime, and others seeking to quash dissent and human rights activism.
“On this solemn Day, I reiterate in the strongest possible terms that under international law, no one should be kept in secret detention. Any person deprived of his or her liberty must be held safely in officially recognized and supervised locations that observe the rule of law.
“States should provide full information about the whereabouts of persons who have been disappeared. And they must effectively implement the right to the truth, justice and reparation for all victims and their families,” he added.
The Secretary-General also urged all Member States who have not yet done so to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which entered into force in December 2010 and has been signed by 93 States and ratified by 43.
General Assembly President John Ashe echoed that call, asking Member States to commit to eradicating this crime and to consider becoming a party to the Convention so that “in every corner of the world, the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance becomes a reality.”
He went on to say in a statement that whether it is used to fight terrorism and organized crime or to silence voices calling for democracy and human rights, enforced disappearances cannot and should not be tolerated.
“In the face of contemporary forms of enforced disappearance, including the placement of victims in secret detention outside the protection of the law, we need new strategies to counter this crime and protect the victims.”
He noted that today in many countries, decades after internal conflicts and political repression, the fate of thousands of peoples remain unknown.
“Behind each disappearance is a personal story and a family seeking the truth, justice, and the right to an effective redress. Relatives of disappeared persons and civil society groups are often the only voices reminding us of the plight of the victims.
“They play a fundamental role, yet many of them are vulnerable to intimidation and face numerous obstacles in their fight to bring an end to enforced disappearances. Effective measures are needed to protect them and other members of the community from threats and prevent and punish any act of intimidation, persecution or reprisal.”
On the occasion of the Day, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances urged governments to support relatives of the disappeared by removing all obstacles hindering their search for loved ones, including through the opening of all archives, especially military files.
“More than 43,000 cases, the majority dating back decades, remain outstanding with the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. These cases stay open for several reasons, often because relatives have no support in finding out what happened,” they said in a news release.
They added that the search for disappeared family members and, in many cases, the identification of discovered remains, is always the most pressing request of relatives who endure tremendous suffering in their long wait to know the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. Many relatives face unjustified hurdles in their search, due to the lack of political will, or insufficient and inadequate investigations.
“Transparency and information-sharing is a good demonstration of political will, so we call on States to immediately open all archives, including military files, as these sometimes contain information relating to the whereabouts of disappeared persons,” the two expert groups said.
“The time for promises has passed. Now it is the time to act. States must urgently address the anguish of the relatives of the disappeared and reinvigorate their investigations into cases of disappearances.”