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Enforced disappearances: “Urgent need to reverse a frightening trend” – UN expert group

GENEVA (15 September 2016) – The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances today warned that enforced disappearances are on the rise, and expressed deep concern and frustration for what it defined as “a very frightening trend.”

“We are seriously concerned that the number of enforced disappearances is increasingly rising with the false and pernicious belief that they are a useful tool to preserve national security and combat terrorism,” said the human rights experts during the presentation of its latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council.

“During last year alone, we dealt with 483 urgent actions out of 766 newly reported cases of disappearance in 37 States; more than three times higher than those reflected in our previous year’s annual report,” they noted. “This means more than one disappearance per day, and obviously it is just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the cases the Working Group receives.”

The experts expressed concern in particular about a steep increase in the so-called ‘short-term disappearances’, the unacknowledged deprivation of liberty which puts the individual concerned outside the protection of the law for a limited amount of time.

“The fact that the victim reappears in many of these cases, does not render less worrisome this form of enforced disappearance, which is equally serious and must be eradicated,” the experts observed. “We strongly reiterate that there is no time limit, no matter how short, for an enforced disappearance to occur.”

Since its creation in 1980, the expert group has transmitted a total of 55,273 cases to 107 States. The number of cases under active consideration stands at 44,159 in a total of 91 States. During the last year, 161 cases were clarified.

The expert group also drew attention to a pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders working on such cases.

In its report, the Working Group also makes preliminary observations on the problem of enforced disappearances in the context of migration. Over the next year, the experts will assess the issues of migration caused by enforced disappearances, enforced disappearances of migrants, factors contributing to the enforced disappearance of migrants; and State obligations in the context of the enforced disappearance of migrants.

“We are grateful for the interests shown by many delegations and other stakeholders on the crucial issue of enforced disappearances in the context of migration and would welcome any input thereon as we embark in further studying this issue,” they said.

The Working Group also presented its reports** on Peru, Sri Lanka and Turkey, the follow-up report to the recommendations made upon past visits to Congo and Pakistan.

In relation to the country visits, the Working Group noted that some positive steps are being taken in Peru and Sri Lanka in relation to the right to truth for past disappearances but that “much still to be done, especially when it comes to accountability and bringing perpetrators to justice.”

With reference to the visit to Turkey, the experts noted that little has been done so far to comprehensively address past enforced disappearances and that “is imperative for the Turkish Government to come to terms with past violations and turn this page once and for all. This would be particularly important to give a clear signal in the current difficult situation”.

Commenting on the follow-up report on Congo, the Working Group regretted that unfortunately no reply was received from Congo in the process of preparation of the follow-up report “Many of the recommendations made upon the Working Group’s visit to the country in 2011 remain valid today,” the experts stressed.

Regarding the follow-up report on Pakistan, the Group welcomed the cooperation from the Government throughout the follow-up process. “We regret though that most of the recommendations contained in our 2012 report have not been implemented yet and that we continue to receive high number of allegations of enforced disappearances,” they noted.

“We stand ready to assist the Government of Pakistan in the implementation of these recommendations and we encourage it to consider inviting the Working Group for a follow-up visit to the country,” the experts concluded.

(*) Check the Working Group’s annual report (A/HRC/33/51): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session33/Pages/ListReports.aspx

(**) See the press releases on:
Turkey: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20500&LangID=E
Sri Lanka: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20499&LangID=E
Peru :
(English) -  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20501&LangID=E
(Spanish) - http://www.ohchr.org/SP/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20501&LangID=S

ENDS

The Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Ms. Houria Es-Slami (Morocco) and the Vice-Chair is Mr. Bernard Duhaime (Canada); other members are Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Republic of Korea), Mr. Ariel Dulitzky (Argentina) and Mr. Henrikas Mickevicius (Lithuania).

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. It continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disappearances/Pages/DisappearancesIndex.aspx

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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