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Action urged to end “alarming” number of enforced disappearances on International Day

Prohibition of enforced disappearance is ‘absolute,’ UN declares, urging action to ramp-up searches for missing

Relatives of abducted children speak out for the disappeared in Lamwo district, northern Uganda. Photo: IRIN/Philippa Croome

30 August 2015 – Marking the fourth International Day of Enforced Disappearances, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the “alarming” number of acts by that are tantamount to enforced disappearances and appealed to all Member States to ratify or accede to the legal instrument prohibiting such acts.

The prohibition of enforced disappearance is absolute,” Mr. Ban declared in a message on the Day, commemorated annually on 30 August.

The UN chief was referring to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which affirms unequivocally that the use of enforced disappearance is illegal under any circumstances, including war, internal political instability or any other public emergency.

“Victims of enforced disappearances are deprived of their liberty, kept in secret detention and seldom released,” Mr. Ban said. “Often their fate remains unknown; they are frequently tortured and in constant fear of being killed. Even if they are eventually set free, the physical and psychological scars stay with them for the rest of their lives. The victims’ families and loved ones also suffer immense anguish.”

“On this International Day, I urge all Member States to ratify or accede to the Convention without delay, and I call on the States parties to the Convention to implement it,” Mr. Ban said, adding: “It is time for an end to all enforced disappearances.”

He noted that far from being a practice employed only in the past by military dictatorships, enforced disappearance continues to be used by some States.

Furthermore, “in recent years there has also been an alarming number of acts by non-State actors, including armed extremist and terrorist groups, that are tantamount to enforced disappearances and that are also gross abuses of human rights,” he said.

In the past year alone, the two UN mechanisms [expert groups] on enforced disappearance received 246 requests by family members across the world to take urgent action.

“This figure is just a fraction of the thousands of cases that are never reported either because of security conditions or because of a lack of knowledge of the existence of international mechanisms that can help,” the UN chief said.

Providing details on these incidents in a strongly worded statement, the two UN mechanisms – the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances – called on States to establish and activate protocols for the immediate search of disappeared persons, in a systematic way, across the world.

The experts explained that the 246 recent cases of enforced disappearances that they had been working on over the past year “are a clear indication that this heinous practice is still used in a number of countries.”

Those cases are nevertheless only the “tip of the iceberg” of thousands of cases which are never reported either because of fear of reprisals or because the security conditions do not allow doing so, they added, echoing the Secretary-General. The lack of resources and the insufficient awareness of existing international mechanisms are other reasons why many cases of enforced disappearances are never reported to the United Nations.

“Following the activation of the urgent actions procedures by the Working Group and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances over the last year, 13 disappeared persons were found alive, in detention, and sadly two were found dead,” they revealed, stressing that the use of the “urgent action” procedures shows that in the case of enforced disappearance, time is of the essence.

“The hours and days that follow a disappearance are crucial to find the disappeared person alive. The actions taken in the immediate aftermath of a disappearance cannot be left to hazards but have to be systematized in protocols that permit the immediate activation of all means at disposal for the search of the disappeared.”

With this in mind, the experts called on governments to take action as soon as a case of disappearance is reported to the authorities and all necessary measures to seek and find the disappeared person and to avoid irreparable harm.

“We equally urge governments to guarantee the full protection from all forms of reprisals of those who report cases of enforces disappearances, the authors of the urgent actions requests, the witnesses, and the relatives of the disappeared persons… [and] also encourage all those whose beloved ones have disappeared, as well as those acting on their behalf, to make use of the tool provided by the urgent action procedures.

By a resolution adopted in December 2010, the UN General Assembly welcomed the adoption of Convention and decided to declare 30 August the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

The Convention entered into force in 2010, has been signed by 93 States and ratified by 50, and provides a sound foundation for fighting impunity, protecting disappeared persons and their families and strengthening the guarantees provided by the rule of law – including investigation, prosecution, justice and reparation.

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