UN human rights group looking into 200 cases of enforced disappearances

Jeremy Sarkin, chairman of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

15 March 2010 – A United Nations human rights group today will begin reviewing more than 200 cases of disappearances around the world, as the body commemorates its 30th anniversary.

The five-member Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is mandated to assist the relatives of disappeared persons by ascertaining their fate and whereabouts, as well as to act as a conduit between the families and governments concerned.

During its 90th session in Geneva, it will meet with government officials, victims’ families and civil society representatives.

The five-member Working Group, which meets three times a year, will also look into recently-submitted information on cases concerning nearly 30 countries that it has previously reviewed.

Since its creation by the UN Commission on Human Rights on 29 February in 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 deemed to be outside the protection of the law.

A panel discussion entitled “Thirty years between hope and despair: the experience of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances” will be held on Thursday to commemorate its 30th anniversary, which will also be marked by events and activities throughout the year.

Last month, Jeremy Sarkin, who chairs the Working Group, emphasized that enforced disappearances continue to be one of the worst human rights violations.

“While many people think this is a practice of the past, it has become a global problem affecting all continents of the world,” he said.

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

Previously, they 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.”

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, he said.


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