Civil and political rights – Disappearances and summary executions – Working Group report (excerpts)



Question of enforced or involuntary disappearances

Report of the Working Group on Enforced

or Involuntary Disappearances


The present report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances retains the emphasis on further developments in respect of two basic elements of the situation of enforced or involuntary disappearance worldwide.

The first relates to the phenomenon of disappearance, which persists in a number of States.  In 2003, the Working Group transmitted 234 new cases of disappearance in 22 States, 43 of which allegedly occurred in 2003.  The total number of new cases transmitted represents an almost twofold increase from the previous year, but this is due in large measure to attempts by the secretariat to begin to address a backlog of unprocessed cases.  As in previous years, the Working Group has used an urgent action procedure for 43 cases that allegedly occurred within three months preceding the receipt of the report by the Group.

The total number of cases transmitted by the Working Group to Governments since the Group’s inception is now 50,135.  The total number of cases under active consideration, as they have not yet been clarified or discontinued, stands at 41,934.  Over the past five years, the Working Group has been able to clarify 5,300 cases.  In 2003, 79 States remained on the Working Group’s list of countries with unclarified cases of alleged disappearance.

The second basic element of the phenomenon of enforced disappearance relates to the clarification process.  In 2003, the Working Group was able to clarify 837 cases; 98 per cent of them have been clarified upon information provided by the Governments that was not contested by the sources.  The Working Group has received concrete assistance and strong cooperation from a number of Governments, notably Algeria, Argentina, Chile, China, Morocco, Tunisia, Uruguay and Yemen.  The Working Group, nevertheless, remains gravely concerned that, of the 79 countries with outstanding cases, some Governments (namely Burundi, Cambodia, Guinea, Israel, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles and Togo), have never replied to its requests for information or its reminders.  Without the cooperation of Governments, thousands of cases of disappearance will remain unclarified.



1. The primary task of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (the Working Group) is to clarify the fate or whereabouts of persons who are reported to have disappeared.  According to its well-established methods of work, the Working Group serves as a channel of communication.  It connects sources of information on alleged disappearances – typically family members or non-governmental organizations – with Governments.  The core mandate of the Working Group was stipulated in Commission on Human Rights resolution 20 (XXXVI), and has been developed by the Commission in subsequent resolutions.  The Working Group’s role ends when the fate or whereabouts of the missing person has been established as a result of investigations by the Government or the family, irrespective of whether that person is alive or dead.  The Working Group does not establish criminal liability or declare State responsibility; its mandate is essentially humanitarian.



25. This chapter covers only those countries in respect of which the Working Group received new information during the period under review.  No new information was received concerning Bolivia, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, Israel, Malaysia, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Seychelles, the Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, or Yugoslavia (see previous reports of the Working Group, E/CN.4/2002/79 and E/CN.4/2003/70).


Syrian Arab Republic

276. During the period under review, 3 new cases of disappearance were transmitted by the Working Group to the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.  

277. Most of the 36 cases of disappearance reported in the past occurred between 1980 and 1994.  The security forces or military intelligence were allegedly responsible for these cases.  Among the victims were students, medical doctors, military personnel and an artist.  Eight cases concerned Lebanese citizens, 3 concerned Jordanian nationals and 1 concerned another Palestinian.  In the past, concern was expressed to the Working Group about the whereabouts of both Lebanese citizens and Palestinians who were reported to have disappeared in Lebanon, a circumstance for which the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic was allegedly responsible.  (See section on Lebanon, paragraphs 181-188.)

278. The newly reported cases occurred between 1980 and 1986.  They concerned Lebanese nationals who were allegedly abducted in Lebanon, 2 of whom were last seen in the Mazze detention centre in the Syrian Arab Republic.  In 1 case, the person was allegedly abducted at the international airport in Damascus.  All cases were attributed to the Syrian intelligence service.  During the period under review, in accordance with its methods of work, the Working Group also sent to the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic copies of 5 cases concerning Lebanese nationals who were reportedly abducted by the Hezbollah and transferred to the Syrian intelligence service between 1981 and 1985.  (See section on Lebanon, paragraphs 181-188.)

279. Concern was expressed by non-governmental organizations about the alleged repatriation in “relative secrecy” of bodies of Lebanese citizens, presumed to have disappeared in Syrian prisons or detention centres.  Concern was also expressed at the alleged claim by Syrian authorities that there were no Lebanese prisoners or detainees in the Syrian Arab Republic.  

280. During the period under review, the Government provided information on 11 outstanding cases.  In 1 case concerning a Lebanese national, the person had died in prison and the body had been returned to the family.  In the case of 2 Palestinians with Jordanian nationality, a mother and daughter, they had been taken hostage by the Sabri al-banna group, pending the return of her son who had fled, and been killed when he failed to return.  In 1 case, a Lebanese artist, the person concerned had been arrested for his involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres, and for his failure to do his military service, and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.  He was currently serving his sentence.  In 7 cases involving 3 Syrian nationals, 3 Lebanese citizens, and 1 Jordanian national, the competent authorities had no information on the persons concerned.  The information was not enough to apply the six-month rule to these cases or to consider them clarified.

281. Of the 24 cases clarified by the Working Group, 11 were clarified on the basis of information provided by the Government and 13 on the basis of information provided by the source.  In respect of the 15 outstanding cases, the Working Group is unable to report on the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared persons.


United States of America

303. … One other case concerned a United States citizen, who had reportedly disappeared in 2001 near the Israeli settlement of Ofrah on territory under the Palestine Authority.  The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were allegedly responsible for his disappearance.  (See sections on Palestinian Authority and Israel, E/CN.4/2002/79.)  In accordance with its methods of work, the Working Group sent copies of these 4 cases to the Government of the United States of America.




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