UN: States urged to act over enforced disappearances

Governments around the world must redouble efforts to bring an end to enforced disappearances, Amnesty International said today during a meeting of international experts on the issue. The UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances will meet for the first time ever from 8-11 November in Geneva, nearly a year after an international treaty against the practice took effect. “Enforced disappearances are among the cruellest and most dehumanizing of human rights violations. Through separation and silence, they continue to tear families and communities apart in many countries,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s Director of Law and Policy.   “All states must accede to the Convention against Enforced Disappearances and adopt effective national laws to abolish the practice.” Enforced disappearance takes place when someone is taken away without their fate or whereabouts being disclosed. The practice affects not only the detained individuals, but also their families and friends, who are systematically denied information about the disappeared. This often includes the authorities’ refusal to admit to detaining an individual, as well as a lingering uncertainty for family and friends about whether their loved one has been tortured, sexually assaulted or killed in custody. In many countries, Amnesty International has documented the continued harassment, ill-treatment, and intimidation experienced by relatives who demand answers about the fate of the disappeared. The Nazis in Adolf Hitler’s Germany were the first to formalize the practice, and it has since been used by repressive governments and armed groups in dozens of countries. This includes Latin American dictatorships from the 1950s onwards, during Sri Lanka’s decades’ long internal armed conflict, in Pakistan under the pretext of counterterrorism since 2001 and by autocratic governments across the Middle East and North Africa. Over decades, hundreds of thousands of people have been disappeared with relative impunity. But a push led by several governments along with families of the disappeared and global civil society brought about the signing of an International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances in 2007. The treaty entered into force last December after 20 states ratified it. Campaigners from the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances, an umbrella group for dozens of NGOs that work on the issue, will come together at the UN meeting to develop strategies to strengthen the treaty’s reach. Amnesty International’s publication No Impunity for Enforced Disappearances is a comprehensive legal commentary that describes state obligations under the treaty and gives guidance for how to implement it at the national level. “Once states commit themselves to ending enforced disappearances, they must follow through by not only joining the treaty but by also implementing strong national laws that fully and effectively reflect its provisions and best practices in international law,” said Michael Bochenek. Some 90 countries have signed the Convention against Enforced Disappearances, but only 30 have ratified it to date. Amnesty International and other members of the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances will continue to urge all governments to join and implement the treaty and to deliver justice, truth and reparation to the victims of enforced disappearance and their families. The following states have signed and ratified the Convention: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mali, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Senegal, Serbia, Spain, Tunisia, Uruguay and Zambia.