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“Clear and firm political will is crucial to prevent and terminate enforced disappearances”

Statement of the United Nations Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances at the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance

GENEVA (18 December 2012) –“Enforced disappearance undermines the deepest values of any society committed to respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” stated today the human rights experts of the United Nations Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances*, marking the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

On 18 December 1992, deeply concerned that in many countries, enforced disappearances occurred, often in a persistent manner, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration, described by the Group’s experts as “a milestone in the united efforts to combat this heinous practice.” “Thanks to the impact of the Declaration”, underscored the experts “much progress has been made in these twenty years. Reparations have been paid, truth commissions established, trials carried out and memorials built”. The experts also noted the contribution of the Declaration to the development of international law on this topic.

“Nevertheless,” they added, “we regret that the concern expressed by the General Assembly twenty years ago is still valid today, as enforced disappearances continue to occur in several countries across the globe, notably in situations of conflict or internal unrest or as a tool to fight terrorism or organised crime.” “We recall that, according to the Declaration, no circumstances whatsoever may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances”, added the experts.

“More focus should be put on measures preventing enforced disappearances, including keeping accessible and updated registries of detainees at all places of deprivation of liberty; guaranteeing access to appropriate information and to all such places for relatives as well as lawyers; and bringing arrested persons promptly before a judicial authority,” the experts stressed.

“Today we also want to remember all victims of enforced disappearance and pay tribute to the courage of those who help them, amid many difficulties, in their struggle to determine the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones”, added the experts. “Families and civil society’s organisations dealing with the issue of enforced disappearance should be strengthened and supported as well as protected against ill-treatment, intimidation or reprisal.”

In their view, the essential element to prevent and terminate enforced disappearance is a clear and firm political will. “States should do more to get rid of this plague and finally render enforced disappearance a crime of the past,” they stressed. “More efforts should be made to achieve truth, justice and reparations for the victims and to break the cycle of impunity that too often surrounds this crime”, the experts added.

“With the Declaration the unutterable is uttered, the unimaginable is described, and the remedy for the evil is outlined,” the experts noted, recalling that the Declaration enabled the international community to officially declare enforced disappearance as a heinous crime placing persons outside the protection of the law and recognise the specificity of the suffering inflicted on the families of the disappeared.

“On the occasion of this anniversary, we call upon all States to renew their commitments to the principles of the Declaration and particularly to strongly reaffirm that ‘any act of enforced disappearance is an offence to human dignity’. All States should take immediate action to demonstrate their resolve against this shameful practice, including signing and ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance”, underscored the experts.

“We thank those States that regularly cooperate with us and recall that we stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to all States in the implementation of the Declaration”, concluded the experts.

(*) The Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. Olivier de Frouville (France) and the other members are Mr. Ariel Dulitzky (Argentina), Ms. Jasminka Dzumhur (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Mr. Osman El-Hajjé (Lebanon), and Mr. Jeremy Sarkin (South Africa).


The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. In view of the Working Group's humanitarian mandate, clarification occurs when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person are clearly established. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

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Read the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance

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ucedrangolo@ohchr.org or wgeid@ohchr.org)

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