States must put an end to widespread practice of enforced disappearances

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On this day, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, FIDH calls upon states to put an end to enforced disappearances and to ensure justice for the thousands of victims and their families.

This day was first commemorated 40 years ago by the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) and was later adopted by similar bodies in other parts of the world.

Recognizing that the crime of enforced disappearance has reached a global scale, the United Nations officially declared this day as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in 2011.

Today, FIDH commemorates this event to reiterate that the disappeared are not forgotten and that the FIDH movement will continue to work to attain the vision of a world without desaparecidos.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) is the primary international instrument governing the crime of enforced disappearance. The ICPPED stipulates that enforced disappearance is an ongoing crime for as long as the victim’s fate or whereabouts remains unknown, meaning that states cannot invoke the principle of non-retroactivity with regard to domestic laws that criminalize enforced disappearance. The ICPPED also imposes an obligation on states to ensure truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of enforced disappearances and their families.

However, while the ICPPED imposes important obligations on states in order to address the issue of enforced disappearances, the number of states subject to the convention remains extremely low, particularly in those countries most affected. As of June 2017, only 56 states had become parties to the ICPPED. While 96 states had become signatories to the ICPPED, those most affected by recent cases of enforced disappearance, and those that have the largest number of unresolved cases, have not yet ratified the Convention.

Nonetheless, all states are required to uphold a number of related fundamental rights under international law. These include the rights to life and liberty and to an effective remedy and the prohibition against torture and cruel and degrading treatment. These rights are embodied in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT).

Furthermore, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has recognized that the crime of enforced disappearance is of such severity that it can amount to a crime against humanity, providing that it is part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.”

Despite the fact that enforced disappearance is a crime under international law, every year hundreds of people, including human rights defenders and dissidents, continue to be subjected to enforced disappearance by government authorities acting with impunity.

From its inception in 1980 until May 2017, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) transmitted a total of 56,363 cases to 112 states. For the period May 2016 - May 2017 alone, the WGEID transmitted 1,094 newly reported cases of enforced disappearance to 36 States. The number of cases under active consideration stands at 45,120 in a total of 91 states. It is extremely likely that the actual number of enforced disappearances worldwide is significantly higher, as many cases are not brought to the attention of the WGEID and remain unreported in the countries concerned due to fear of intimidation and reprisals.

FIDH is especially concerned about the situations in Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, El Salvador, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, where enforced disappearances are occurring on a widespread scale. [1] Further, FIDH is concerned about the high number of unresolved cases in many countries as of May 2017, including: Algeria (3,179), Argentina (3,241), Chile (785), Colombia (973), East Timor (428), Egypt (258), El Salvador (2,282), Guatemala (2,897), India (368), Iran (528), Iraq (16,416), Lebanon (313), Mexico (377), Nepal (470), Pakistan (723), Peru (2,365), the Philippines (625), Russia (808), Sri Lanka (5,859), and Syria (218). [2]

These figures show that the regions most affected by both new and ongoing cases of enforced disappearance are Asia, the Middle East, and South America. While there are regional particularities, in most cases, enforced disappearances involve the abduction of victims by government security forces with the acquiescence or complicity of state officials. The victims are taken from their home or the streets, following which they are detained and frequently subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, often ending in extrajudicial killing. In the case of internal or international migrants, victims are frequently killed or abducted during their journey, in isolated places like high seas, deserts or jungles, where investigations are difficult to conduct and disappearances easy to conceal. Such occurrences are invariably denied by the government authorities involved.

Enforced disappearances are allowed to continue unabated due to states’ lack of political will to address, or even acknowledge, the issue. The refusal of governments to adequately and effectively investigate cases of enforced disappearance and hold those responsible to account has fostered a culture of impunity for such crimes. Even in cases where clear evidence has emerged of the involvement of state authorities, perpetrators are very rarely prosecuted.

FIDH notes its concern about the impact that the lack of effective investigations and prosecutions has on families of victims. They are denied justice and are deprived of the truth about the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. Further, they are denied reparations, and are often left without a breadwinner or the legal redress usually available upon providing proof of death.

FIDH reiterates its call for all states to put an immediate end to the practice of enforced disappearances by ensuring thorough, competent, and impartial investigations into such crimes to determine the fate or whereabouts of the victims. It further demands that states ensure that victims of enforced disappearances are returned to their families wherever possible and that those affected are afforded reparations commensurate with the harm inflicted.

FIDH further calls upon states that have not yet become parties to the ICPPED to immediately ratify the Convention and enact and implement the necessary domestic legislation.

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