Clear and firm political will crucial to prevent enforced disappearances – UN experts

Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Olivier de Frouville. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

18 December 2012 – A group of independent United Nations experts today called for clear and firm political will to prevent enforced disappearances, which continue to persist around the world 20 years after the adoption of a declaration aimed at eliminating this heinous practice.

The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 1992, states that “any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity,” and it condemns such actions “as a grave and flagrant violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“With the Declaration the unutterable is uttered, the unimaginable is described, and the remedy for the evil is outlined,” the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances stated in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The Group recalled that the Declaration enabled the international community to officially declare enforced disappearance as a heinous crime placing persons outside the protection of the law and recognise the specificity of the suffering inflicted on the families of the disappeared.

“Thanks to the impact of the Declaration, much progress has been made in these 20 years. Reparations have been paid, truth commissions established, trials carried out and memorials built,” it stated.

“Nevertheless,” it added, “we regret that the concern expressed by the General Assembly 20 years ago is still valid today, as enforced disappearances continue to occur in several countries across the globe, notably in situations of conflict or internal unrest or as a tool to fight terrorism or organised crime.”

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.

The Group also called for more focus to be put on measures preventing enforced disappearances, including keeping accessible and updated registries of detainees at all places of deprivation of liberty; guaranteeing access to appropriate information and to all such places for relatives as well as lawyers; and bringing arrested persons promptly before a judicial authority.

“Today we also want to remember all victims of enforced disappearance and pay tribute to the courage of those who help them, amid many difficulties, in their struggle to determine the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones,” the Group noted. “Families and civil society’s organizations dealing with the issue of enforced disappearance should be strengthened and supported as well as protected against ill-treatment, intimidation or reprisal.”

Essential to preventing and terminating enforced disappearance is a clear and firm political will, stressed the experts.

“States should do more to get rid of this plague and finally render enforced disappearance a crime of the past,” they stated. “More efforts should be made to achieve truth, justice and reparations for the victims and to break the cycle of impunity that too often surrounds this crime.”

The experts called on all States to renew their commitments to the principles of the Declaration, and take immediate action to demonstrate their resolve against the “shameful” practice of enforced disappearance, including signing and ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

At its most recent session in Geneva, the Group reviewed more than 400 cases of enforced disappearances spanning 31 nations.

The expert group – which consists of Olivier de Frouville from France, who is also the Chair-Rapporteur, Ariel Dulitzky from Argentina, Jasminka Dzumhur from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Osman El-Hajjé from Lebanon, and Jeremy Sarkin from South Africa – will present its report to the Human Rights Council next March.


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