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Enforced Disappearances “turn humans into non humans,” says UN expert body on key anniversary

GENEVA (26 February 2010) – “Enforced disappearances remain amongst the worst human rights violations ever practised,” said Jeremy Sarkin, chair of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances* on the 30th Anniversary of the expert body’s creation (29th February 1980). “It turns humans into non-humans.”
“While many people think this is a practice of the past, it has become a global problem affecting all continents of the world,” warned Mr. Sarkin. “Once largely the product of military dictatorships, enforced disappearances are nowadays perpetrated in complex situations of internal conflict, especially as a means of political repression of opponents.”
The human rights expert expressed particular concern about the continuing widespread impunity for enforced disappearance. He also drew attention to the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders, relatives of victims, witnesses and lawyers dealing with cases of enforced disappearance.
Quoting a statement by the Working Group**, Mr. Sarkin indicated that - since its creation- it has dealt with more than 50,000 cases in more than 80 countries. However, enforced disappearances are still severely underreported because of a lack of knowledge of the international human rights system, lack of access to the system and obstacles and hindrances placed in the way of the families of victims to obtain redress for this horrible offence.
On this the 30th Anniversary of the Working Group creation, its members extend its appreciation to those States that cooperate with it to resolve cases of enforced disappearance.
It urges States “to undertake all possible efforts to prevent and eradicate this heinous practice and to bring to justice all those believed to be responsible for the crime of enforced disappearances.” The group of human rights experts also calls on States “to refrain from any act of intimidation or reprisals against those persons who contribute to the eradication of enforced disappearances, and to fight against impunity.”
“The United Nations could also play its part,” Mr. Sarkin said, “by adopting 30 August as the International Day of the Disappeared, to ensure that there is more attention to the practice and the means available to prevent and eradicate it.”
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances 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.
(*) 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)
(**) Statement by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on the occasion of its 30th Anniversary: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9848&LangID=e