No place for enforced disappearances in 2017, UN experts say

NEW YORK (20 October 2017) – Enforced disappearance should not exist in the 21st century, but reports of the “heinous” crime continue to be received in unacceptably high numbers, two UN experts* say, stressing that the cases they receive represent only a small percentage of a much worse and gruesome reality.

“The crime of enforced disappearance is as unacceptable today as it was decades ago when it first came to the attention of the international community, and there are neither reasons nor circumstances that can ever be invoked to justify it,” said Suela Janina, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and Bernard Duhaime, who chairs the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.

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Ms. Janina added: “Enforced disappearance is a shameful practice and a crime under international human rights law, whether it is used to repress political dissent, combat organized crime or carried out under the guise of fighting terrorism.”

Mr Duhaime continued: “The Working Group has witnessed a big increase in so-called ‘short term’ disappearances in a number of countries, particularly in the context of the fight against terrorism.

“These disappearances relate to the practice of putting individuals outside the protection of the law for a limited period, during which time they are usually interrogated and often ill-treated or tortured to get forced confessions or ‘evidence’.”

The experts told the UN General Assembly in New York there was no time limit, however short, for an enforced disappearance.

The two Chairs urged the General Assembly to put the fight against enforced disappearances at the very top of its agenda, once and for all.

Mr. Duhaime also highlighted the direct link between enforced disappearance and migration, set out in a report by the Working Group, an issue which he described as less visible but no less serious.

“We believe that governments and the international community as a whole are not paying adequate attention to this topic,” said Mr. Duhaime. “Owing to both its nature and its transnational character, States tend to turn a blind eye to the issue, preferring to transfer the blame elsewhere, be it to another State or to a criminal group.

“The enforced disappearance of migrants is a serious issue that needs to be acknowledged and addressed globally.”

The experts also reiterated their utmost concern regarding the issue of reprisals.

“We continue to note a pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders working on such cases,” the experts said.

The experts concluded by urging all Member States to recognize the goals and objectives of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and echoed the recent call of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to double the number of ratifications in the next five years. “There is no valid excuse for States not to ratify the Convention,” they added.