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Enforced disappearances: “Let’s stop pretending it’s an issue of the past”

GENEVA / NEW YORK (22 October 2015) – The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances called on States to put on the top of their agenda the eradication of enforced disappearance. It also urged Governments to address the changing nature of the problem due to new patterns of enforced disappearance, the growing activity of non-state actors and new types of victims.

“We can’t pretend anymore it is just an issue of the past. Enforced disappearances continue to occur while we speak,” the Vice-Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Bernard Duhaime, told on Wednesday the UN General Assembly.

“The tragedy of enforced disappearance must be recognized as a modern-day issue in order to develop effective and comprehensive measures for its eradication,” the human rights experts said recalling that, since the beginning of the year, they have been working on over 150 recent cases of enforced disappearances perpetrated all over the world.

“It is unconceivable that, in 2015, we receive new cases of enforced disappearances virtually every day. If we consider that the cases we receive are certainly only the tip of the iceberg, this shows very clearly how grim the situation is,” Mr. Duhaime said.

“This is a clear indication that this heinous practice is still used in a number of countries, with the false and pernicious belief that it is a useful tool to preserve national security and combat terrorism or organized crime.”

“We can’t pretend anymore it does not concern us, that it is not our problem. It is one of the biggest modern tragedies and we need to act now. It must be our common objective and priority”, Mr. Duhaime observed.

The experts of the Working Group also drew attention to the changing forms of modern-day enforced disappearances. Among them, they expressed serious concern about a pattern of ‘short-term’ enforced disappearances.

They also highlighted the pattern of people being disappeared, sometimes on a massive scale, by non-state actors. In some cases these actors, which include paramilitary groups, militias and organized criminal gangs, are operating with the connivance or tolerance of the State.

These new patterns of enforced disappearances and new offenders unfortunately affect new victims. In addition to the political opponents who in the past were the targets of enforced disappearance, today victims include vulnerable people of every sector of the society, including migrants.

The Working Group also noted increasing reports of enforced disappearances occurring in the context of migration and it announced that it will focus on this issue its next report to the Human Rights Council.

“The changing nature of enforced disappearances requires new strategies to counter them. We offer our advisory services to all States to reflect together on how to tackle and hopefully eradicate this heinous phenomenon once and for all,” Mr. Duhaime concluded.

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 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. For more information, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Disappearances/Pages/DisappearancesIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Gabriela Guzman (+41 22 917 9412 / gguzman@ohchr.org) or write to wgeid@ohchr.org

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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