According to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/133 of December 18, 1992, as a body of principles for all States), an enforced disappearance occurs 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.”
Both the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (which came into force on July 1, 2002) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 20, 2006) state that, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, a “forced disappearance” qualifies as a crime against humanity and, thus, is not subject to a statute of limitations. It gives victims’ families the right to seek reparations and demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.
On December 21, 2010 (by its resolution 65/209), the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern about the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world, including arrest, detention, and abduction, when these are part of or amount to enforced disappearances, and by the growing number of reports concerning harassment, ill-treatment, and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances or relatives of persons who have disappeared.
By the same resolution, the Assembly welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and decided to declare August 30 the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances to date beginning in 2011.
Forced Disappearances: A Growing Trend
Contrary to popular beliefs, forced disappearances are showing a growing trend not only in authoritarian regimes but even outside of it in the form of disappearances of witnesses, journalists, and other workers involved in ensuring the enforcement of the rule of law. The United Nations Committee and Working Group on Enforced Disappearances have identified other worrying trends, including reprisals against relatives of the victims and members of civil society, often in the name of security and counter-terrorism. Enforced disappearance also has gendered consequences, particularly affecting women and LGBTI persons. With the support of international human rights mechanisms, States must strengthen their efforts to prevent enforced disappearances, search for victims, and increase assistance to victims and their relatives. It is equally critical to pursue credible and impartial judicial investigations. On this International Day, we all renew our commitment to end all enforced disappearances.
Related websites and publications:
- Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances fact sheet
- 10th anniversary of the Convention brochure
- Feature stories (OHCHR)
- UN News stories
- International Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members
- Committee on Enforced Disappearances
- Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
- Human Rights Bodies – Complaints Procedures
- International Criminal Court
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Lawyer, Jharkhand High Court (India)
Global Representative (India), Roya Institute of Global Justice