Enforced Disappearances

According to Article 2 of the International Convention for the protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance: “Enforced disappearance is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
Very often, people who have disappeared are never released and their fate remains unknown. Their families and friends may never find out what has happened to them.

But the person has not just vanished.  Someone, somewhere, knows what has happened to them.  Someone is responsible.  Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law but all too often the perpetrators are never bought to justice.

Every enforced disappearance violates a range of human rights including:

•    the right to security and dignity of person
•  the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
•    the right to humane conditions of detention
•    the right to a legal personality
•    right to a fair trial
•    right to a family life
•    when the disappeared person is killed, the right to life

Enforced disappearance is a particularly cruel human rights violation; a violation of the person who has disappeared and a violation of those who love them.

The disappeared person is often tortured and in constant fear for their life, removed from the protection of the law, deprived of all their rights and at the mercy of their captors. It is a continuing violation which persists often for many years after the initial abduction.

If the person does not die and is eventually released, they may continue to suffer for the rest of their life from the physical and psychological consequences of this form of dehumanization and from the brutality and torture which often accompany it.

Their family and friends, not knowing the fate of their loved one, wait, sometimes for years, for news that may never come. They do not know if their loved one will ever return, so they cannot mourn and adjust to the loss. Their anguish is often exacerbated by material deprivation if the missing person is the mainstay of the family's finances. Sometimes they cannot obtain pensions or other means of support if there is no death certificate.

Committee on Enforced Disappearances

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) is the body of independent experts which monitors implementation of the Convention by the States Parties. 
All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially within two years of accepting the Convention.

The Committee examines each report and shall make such suggestions and general recommendations on the report as it may consider appropriate and shall forward these to the State Party concerned.

In accordance with article 31, a State Party may at the time of ratification of this Convention or at any time afterwards declare that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals subject to its jurisdiction claiming to be victims of a violation by this State Party of provisions of this Convention.

The Committee shall meet in Geneva and normally hold two sessions per year.

Text of the Convention

Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

By resolution 20 (XXXVI) of 29 February 1980, the Commission on Human Rights decided to "establish for a period of one year a working group consisting of five of its members, to serve as experts in their individual capacities, to examine questions relevant to enforced or involuntary disappearances of persons". Since then, the mandate and terms of reference of the Working Group were renewed by the Commission and approved by the Economic and Social Council each year. Since 1986 this has been done biennially and, since 1992, on a three-yearly basis.

The Working Group's basic mandate is to assist the relatives of disappeared persons to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared family members. For this purpose the Group receives and examines reports of disappearances submitted by relatives of disappeared persons or human rights organizations acting on their behalf. After determining whether those reports comply with a number of criteria, the Working Group transmits individual cases to the Governments concerned, requesting them to carry out investigations and to inform the Working Group of the results.

The Working Group deals with the 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. It acts essentially as a channel of communication between the families of disappeared persons and Governments, and has successfully developed a dialogue with the majority of Governments concerned with the aim of solving cases of disappearance.

With the adoption by the General Assembly of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, starting at 1992 and in addition to its core mandate, the Working Group was also entrusted with monitoring the progress of States in fulfilling their obligations deriving from the Declaration and to provide to Governments assistance in its implementation. The Working Group draws the attention of Governments and non-governmental organizations to different aspects of the Declaration and recommends ways of overcoming obstacles to the realization of its provisions. In this capacity, the Working Group has a preventive role, by 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.

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

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