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Enforced Disappearances, a growing human tragedy



31 August 2009

GENEVA – “It is vital to draw more attention to the issue of Enforced Disappearances as it still remains severely underreported, particularly in certain regions of the world,” said Jeremy Sarkin, chairperson of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, presenting the Group’s statement to commemorate the International Day of the Disappeared.

“In spite of that,” stressed Sarkin, “the Working Group has dealt with more than 50,000 cases since it was established in 1980,” highlighting the Group’s concern over the growing number of cases of enforced disappearances around the world.

According to the group of UN independent experts, enforced disappearance is a terrible practice that “affects many people worldwide, and has a particular impact on women and children.” Women particularly often bear the brunt of the serious economic hardships “that accompany a disappearance.”

“When women are victims of disappearance themselves, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.” In addition, say the experts, “the disappearance of a child, or the loss of a parent as a consequence of enforced disappearance are serious violations of the rights of the child.”

In its statement commemorating the International Day of the Disappeared, the UN Working Group also raises its concern at the measures being taken by Governments while countering terrorism and the implications for enforced disappearances, and stressed that arrests committed during military operations, arbitrary detentions and extraordinary renditions “can amount to enforced disappearances.”

The five independent experts ask States to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances, and to take specific measures to promote truth and reconciliation in their societies. However, the experts stressed, “these measures ought not to be used as a substitute for bringing perpetrators particularly of enforced disappearances, to justice.”

The Working Group once again calls upon Governments that have not signed and/or ratified the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance to do so as soon as possible: “Its entry into force will help strengthen Governments’ capacities to reduce the number of disappearances and that it will bolster the hopes and the demands for justice and truth by victims and their families.”

“The cooperation of Governments is indispensable to discovering the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons throughout the world,” reiterate the five UN experts. They call upon all States “to cooperate with the Working Group and to take steps to address all disappearances regardless of when or who perpetrated these disappearances.”

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chairperson-Rapporteur is Mr. Jeremy Sarkin (South Africa), and the other Expert-Members are Santiago Corcuera (Mexico), Mr. Darko Göttlicher (Croatia), Mr. Olivier de Frouville (France) and Mr. Osman El-Hajje (Lebanon)

The group of independent experts was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate or 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. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved.