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13 March 2009

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concluded its 87th session, which was held from 9 to 13 March 2009 at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

The Working Group reviewed 326 newly-submitted cases of enforced disappearances and information on previously accepted cases from 32 countries, including Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, Egypt, Greece, India, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe. The Working Group also examined 10 reported cases under its urgent action procedure.

Upon initiative by the Working Group, meetings were held with the Western European and Others Group and the African Group as part of an ongoing initiative to engage all regional groups. Meetings were held with representatives of the Governments of Ecuador, Japan, Morocco, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam, as well as with NGOs and family members of the disappeared, to exchange views on the phenomenon of enforced disappearances.

Members of the Working Group also held a series of informal bilateral meetings with some governments with a view to enhance cooperation.

The Working Group also examined allegations submitted by non-governmental organizations regarding obstacles encountered in the implementation of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in their respective countries, and decided to transmit general allegations to the concerned governments.

On 10 March 2009, the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group, Mr. Santiago Corcuera, presented at the tenth session of the Human Rights Council the annual report of activities for the year 2008 (A/HRC/10/9) and the report of the country visit to Argentina (A/HRC/10/9/Add.1) undertaken in July 2008.

The Chairperson, on behalf of the Working Group, stated that in 2008, the Working Group received 1,203 newly-reported cases of disappearances and sent urgent actions in 69 cases that allegedly occurred within the three months preceding the receipt of the cases by the Working Group. The Working Group also clarified 54 cases, conducted one country visit, and responded in a timely manner to sources and Governments. If this data is compared with those of 2007, it is clear that the Working Group has more than doubled its volume of work both in terms of number of cases processed and the number of communications sent to Governments.

The Chairperson highlighted for the Council five major areas of concern, as outlined in the annual report: (i) that measures taken by Members States to address terrorism may relate, or even amount to, enforced disappearances; (ii) that very few States have taken specific measures under their criminal law to define enforced disappearances as a separate criminal offence and to bring their existing legislation in line with the Declaration; (iii) that in too many countries persons who have the right to denounce cases of enforced disappearances to a competent and independent authority, still cannot have their complaint promptly and thoroughly and impartially investigated; (iv) that the question of enforced disappearance has special resonance with women; and (v) that the right to truth should be enjoyed by all victims of enforced disappearance.

The Working Group was established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families to determine the fate and whereabouts of their relatives. The Working Group 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 fate or 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 is clearly established. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved.

The Working Group is made up of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Chairman-Rapporteur is Santiago Corcuera, and the other Expert-Members are Olivier de Frouville, Darko Göttlicher, Saied Rajaie Khorasani and Jeremy Sarkin.

For more information on the Working Group, please refer to the web site: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/disappear/index.htm