The international community as well as human rights defenders have marked the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances today with statements calling for an end to the strategy, which many regimes use as a means of terror within society.
A statement by the United Nations points out that “the feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects their communities and society as a whole.”
In the statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres calls on states to do more to prevent enforced disappearances and bring to justice those responsible.
“To this end, I call on countries to cooperate fully with UN mechanisms. I also urge all states that have not yet done so to sign, ratify or accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED**).”
Enforced disappearance has become a global problem and is not restricted to a specific region of the world, the UN statement explains. “Once largely the product of military dictatorships, enforced disappearances can nowadays be perpetrated in complex situations of internal conflict, especially as a means of political repression of opponents.”
‘Once largely the product of military dictatorships, enforced disappearances can nowadays be perpetrated in complex situations of internal conflict, especially as a means of political repression of opponents’ – UN
The UN is particularly concerned about the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders, relatives of victims, witnesses and legal counsel dealing with cases of enforced disappearance; the use by states of counter-terrorist activities as an excuse for breaching their obligations; and the still widespread impunity for enforced disappearance.
“Special attention must also be paid to specific groups of especially vulnerable people, like children and people with disabilities,”
Human rights defenders
To mark the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances today, five leading human rights organisations are calling on African states to end the use of enforced disappearances and ensure justice and reparations for thousands of victims in Africa.
In a joint statement to mark the day, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), the Collectif des Familles de Disparu(e)s en Algerie Association (CFDPA); Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL); REDRESS, and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), highlight the issue of enforced disappearances, especially in Africa.
“For decades, thousands of people including government critics, human rights defenders, activists and members of minority groups have disappeared in Africa in a prevalent climate of impunity. Victims include those disappeared during the 1990s civil war in Algeria, under the 42-year regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, during Omar al-Bashir’s presidency in Sudan, and under Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. The practice continues today, with state actors and militias affiliated with states being the main force responsible for carrying out this heinous crime.
Following the outbreak of nation-wide anti-government protests that led to the ousting of Al Bashir in April this year, Sudanese national security forces and government-backed paramilitaries have continued to use the practice of enforced disappearances to “preserve national security”. In Libya, since 2011, militias have subjected thousands of people to enforced disappearances for their real or perceived political opinion, tribal links, membership in a “terrorist organisation” or for financial gains. The fate of prominent Libyan politician and human rights defender Seham Sergewa remains unknown since she was abducted from her home in Benghazi on 17 July 2019 for peacefully expressing her views.
“Enforced disappearances have devastated and continue to devastate thousands of lives in Africa. It is time for African states to confront the climate of impunity that has allowed this heinous crime to flourish. Non-signatory states must sign and ratify the ICCPED and fulfil their obligations under the convention,” said the five organisations, which urge African states to:
- Become a party to the ICPPED and accept the full competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims and other state parties;
- Make enforced disappearance a crime under domestic law with a definition consistent with the ICPPED, and provide appropriate penalties which recognise the seriousness of the crime;
- Acknowledge the use of enforced disappearances on their territories and give clear instructions that enforced disappearances will not be tolerated and those who commit it will be brought to justice and held to account;
- Investigate crimes of enforced disappearance and hold those responsible to account;
- Ensure that survivors and victims’ families receive reparations, including compensation, rehabilitation, restitution and a guarantee of non-recurrence;
- Take effective measures to prevent enforced disappearances;
- Repeal any amnesty laws or any other law that facilitates enforced disappearances and impunity.
* On 21 December 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 30 August the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, to be observed beginning in 2011.
** The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) entered into force on 23 December 2010. 98 countries have signed the ICPPED and 60 have become parties to it. 16 African States are parties to the Convention: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Gabon, Gambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Tunisia, and Zambia.
The definition of enforced disappearance: According to the ICPPED, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly detained, abducted or arrested by a State or a third-party, which acts with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State. The State then refuses to acknowledge the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, therefore placing such a person outside the protection of the law.
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