25 years remembering the disappeared

Jorge Alberto Rosal Paz “disappeared” in Guatemala on 12 August 1983. The 28-year-old agronomist was kidnapped by armed military personnel in a jeep, while driving between Teculutan and Zacapa. He was never seen again. When he “disappeared”, Jorge Rosal was married with a daughter. His wife was expecting their second child. It is believed he had no political or religious affiliations. Despite reported sightings of him in detention after his kidnapping, the Guatemalan authorities denied all knowledge of what had happened. Jorge’s family took his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2000, the Guatemalan State issued a statement acknowledging its institutional responsibility in Jorge Rosal’s case and others. In 2004, a friendly settlement was agreed between the State and Jorge Rosal’s family. Jorge Rosal is just one of hundreds of thousands of people who have been victims of enforced disappearances around the world in the past 25 years. And hundreds of thousands of family members and friends are still left without any knowledge of their fate. They will all be remembered on Saturday 30 August, on the 25th anniversary of the International Day of the Disappeared. The Day of the Disappeared was started in 1983 by the Latin American non-governmental organization FEDEFAM (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos) at a time when disappearances arose from authoritarian rule. Very little has improved since then. The government practice of kidnapping, abducting or detaining people and holding them in secret has continued and spread as more countries accept and justify this crime. Enforced disappearances are taking place in all regions of the world, in countries such as Algeria, Colombia, Nepal, the Russian Federation, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and the former Yugoslavia – to name but a few. On 6 September 2006, US President George W Bush confirmed an open secret that the CIA was operating a programme of prolonged incommunicado detention in secret locations. This practice has involved governments around the world to varying degrees. Those held in the programme are victims of enforced disappearance. They are being held without anyone knowing where they are and are at risk of torture and death. President Bush reauthorized the programme in 2007. Since Pakistan joined the US-led “war on terror” it too has joined the list of countries practicing enforced disappearance. People who have disappeared include foreign and Pakistani nationals suspected of links to terrorist groups and political opponents of the Pakistani government pushing for greater rights for their communities, including Baloch and Sindhis. In the 25th anniversary year, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances reported 41,257 pending cases across 78 countries. In the first year of the Day of the Disappeared, the Working Group reported 1,733 cases of disappearances across 11 countries. In the last year the worst national statistics referred to the Working Group were in Sri Lanka where 5,516 are currently registered as disappeared and 30 new urgent action cases were identified in relation to alleged disappearances. The trend of disappearances has changed over 25 years. The Working Group and the Day of the Disappeared were started at a time when disappearances arose from authoritarian rule in Latin America. Today, disappearances tend to occur in nations suffering from internal conflict such as Colombia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Philippines and the Russian Federation. On 8 August 2007, Ibragim Gazdiev was out driving his brother’s car when he was reportedly seized by armed men in camouflage in Karabulak, in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia. He was surrounded, forced into another car and driven away. He has not been seen since. He is believed to be detained incommunicado by the Russian Federal Security service. The authorities however, deny that they are holding him. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention against Enforced Disappearance) was adopted by the UN general assembly on 20 December 2006. The culmination of years of hard work by associations of relatives of victims, NGOs such as Amnesty International and key governments, The Convention against Enforced Disappearance is one of the strongest human rights treaties ever adopted by the UN. Key to the Convention is the definition of enforced disappearance, the scope of extraterritorial jurisdiction that States must exercise, its provisions for reparations and implementation and the establishment of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. The Convention’s definition of enforced disappearance is: “The arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons, groups or 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.” Amnesty International calls upon all States to ratify the Convention without delay and to enact effective implementing legislation in accordance with their international obligations, thereby joining together to put an end to enforced disappearance, one of the worst violations of human rights. So far, Albania, Argentina, Mexico and Honduras are the only States to have ratified the Convention. Another 73 have signed it. The most recent State to sign is the Netherlands on 29 April 2008. Launched in September 2007, the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED) exists to promote the ratification and implementation of the Convention. On Saturday 30 August, across all continents, the ICAED’s members, NGOs, families associations and grassroots groups are organizing events to celebrate the International Day of the Disappeared. Amnesty International supports the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances. On the ICAED’s website you can sign an open letter which will be sent to all governments demanding that they put an end to this crime and ensure justice to families and victims of disappearance. Take part and join our effort to ensure that victims and their families have access to justice, and not forget past crimes. Go to the ICAED’s website at www.icaed.org.