As defined in the preamble of the Declaration, enforced disappearances occur when  persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their  liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government or by organized groups or  private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or  acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts  of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which  places such persons outside the protection of the law.

The mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has two components. The first one is the humanitarian, which consists of assisting families in determining the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared relatives. In its activities, the Working Group deals with numerous individual cases of human rights violations on a purely humanitarian basis, irrespective of whether the Government concerned has ratified any of the existing legal instruments, which provide for an individual complaints procedure. The Working Group acts as a communication channel between the families of disappeared persons and Governments in order to solve cases of disappearance.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances follows different procedures in handing cases :

a)Urgent procedures: in cases of disappearances that have occurred within the preceding three months are directly transmitted to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country concerned. Regarding cases that had occurred before the three-month limit but not more than a year before the date of their receipt by the Secretariat can be transmitted between sessions. The source is notified when an urgent action is taken, so that its communications with the authorities are facilitated.

b)Urgent appeals: when receiving credible allegation that a person has been arrested, detained, abducted, or otherwise deprived of his liberty and has been enforcedly disappeared or is at risk of being disappeared, the Working Group will transmit those allegations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Government concerned to carry out investigations to clarify the fate or whereabouts of the person(s) concerned and to inform the Working Group about the results.

c)Standard procedures : cases of enforced disappearances that are reported after the three-month limit are examining by the Working Group during its sessions. Those which fulfill the requirements are transmitted to the to the Governments concerned with the request that they carry out investigations in order to clarify the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, and inform the Working Group of the results.

d)Prompt interventions : cases of intimidation, persecution or reprisal against relatives of disappeared persons, witnesses to disappearances or their families, members of organizations of relatives and other non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders or individuals concerned with disappearances are transmitted to the pertinent Governments, with the appeal that they take steps to protect all the fundamental rights of the persons affected. Cases of that nature, which require prompt intervention, are transmitted directly to the Ministers for Foreign Affairs.

e)General allegations : the Working Group transmits to the Governments concerned a summary of allegations received from relatives of disappeared persons and non-governmental organizations with regard to obstacles encountered in the implementation of the Declaration in their respective countries, inviting them to comment  if they so wish.

f)Cooperation with other mechanisms : in case or allegations containing information relevant to other special procedures, the information will be transmitted to the mechanism concerned. The Working Group may also join other mechanisms in their action, within the scope of their respective mandates.

In order to be examined by the Working Group, reports of disappearances must originate from the family or friends of the disappeared persons, representatives of the family, Governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and other reliable sources. They must be submitted in writing with a clear indication of the sender and, in case the source is other than a family member, it must have their consent and be in a position to follow-up with the relatives concerning the fate of the disappeared person.

The Working Group requires that reports of disappearance contain :

  • full name and if possible age, gender, nationality, professional occupation

  • date of disappearance

  • place of arrest or abduction, or where the person was last seen

  • parties, acting on behalf or with the support, consent or acquiescence of the Government, that are presumed to have carried out the arrest or abduction or to be holding the disappeared person

  • steps taken by the family to determine the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, or indication that efforts to resort to domestic remedies were inconclusive

  • in cases reported by reliable sources, clear indication that they have the direct consent of the family to submit the case on their behalf

Due to the humanitarian component of the Working Group’s mandate, domestic remedies do not need to be exhausted before bringing a case to its attention.

A case submitted to the Working Group can also be submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Human Rights Committee, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human  Rights or similar judicial or quasi-judicial international bodies.

The second part of the mandate is the monitoring, which consist of monitor the States’ compliance with their obligations deriving from the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and of existing international rules and to provide Governments  with assistance in their implementation. In that regard, the activities of the Working Group are essentially preventive as the experts are assisting States in overcoming obstacles to the realization of the Declaration. This is done both while carrying out country visits and by providing advisory services, when requested.

The Working Group carries out country visits in order to enhance the dialogue between the authorities concerned, the families or their representatives and the Working Group, and to assist in the clarification of the reported disappearances. The Working Group also undertakes visits to examine the practices carried out by Governments to clarify cases of enforced disappearances, as well as the programs and measures adopted to implement the Declaration and to guarantee the rights of the victims, including the right to integral reparation. The Working Group reminds the Governments concerned of the observations and recommendations formulated in the respective reports, requesting information on the consideration given to them, and the steps taken for their implementation or the constraints that might have prevented their implementation.
(How to report a case of disappearance)

Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice

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