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Migrants face high risk of enforced disappearance, UN experts warn

Migrant disappearances

11 September 2017

GENEVA (12 September 2017) – There is a direct link between enforced disappearance and migration, but governments and the international community are not paying attention, a United Nations expert group has today warned in a new report to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The enforced disappearance of migrants is a serious issue that needs to be acknowledged and addressed globally,” said the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

“States and the international community as a whole are not devoting the necessary attention to this issue and - owing to both its nature and its transnational character - they are turning a blind eye, preferring to transfer the blame elsewhere, be it to another State or to a criminal group,” the experts emphasized.

The report notes that some individuals migrate due to a threat or risk of being subjected to enforced disappearances in their country, or they disappear during their migratory journey or in the country of destination.

This may happen as a result of abduction for political or other reasons, in the context of detention or deportation processes, or as a consequence of smuggling or trafficking, the report explains.

“It is essential that each State take this problem seriously and urgently strengthen measures to prevent and combat it at the national level,” the experts urged.

“Given its transnational character, States should reinforce cooperation among themselves as well as with relevant international organizations at the regional and global levels,” they underlined.

The report also warns that the increasingly precarious movements of migrants, including through long and perilous journeys - associated, among other things, with the often increasingly rigid migratory policies of States focused on deterrence - have created a situation which exposes migrants to heightened risks of becoming victims of human rights violations, including enforced disappearances.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on governments to gather, compile and systematize all information about people who go missing in or while transiting their countries; take all necessary measures to search for and locate disappeared migrants using all available means, including forensic investigative resources; sanction criminal organizations which abuse or exploit migrants, notably trafficking networks; and adequately investigate any allegation of involvement, collusion or acquiescence of State authorities in these criminal acts. 

Other reports:

The Working Group also presented today its latest annual report to the Human Rights Council, which describes the situation of enforced disappearances globally.

“We are seriously concerned that we continue to receive reports of enforced disappearances in an absolutely unacceptable high number,” the experts said, noting that during last year alone, the Working Group dealt with 1,094 new cases of enforced disappearance concerning 36 States, 260 of which were transmitted under the urgent procedure, concerning 23 States.

“It is shameful that we continue to receive reports of enforced disappearances virtually on a daily basis, especially taking into account that the cases the Working Group receives represent only a small percentage of a much worse and gruesome reality,” the experts stressed.

The experts reiterated their call to the Human Rights Council to put the fight against enforced disappearances at the very top of its agenda. “There shouldn’t be place for this heinous and vile crime in 2017,” they added. 

The Working Group also presented its report on Albania and a follow-up report to recommendations made on past visits to Chile and Spain.

“We stand ready to assist these Governments in the implementation of the recommendations made following our visits to their countries,” the experts concluded.


The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances 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. Luciano Hazan (Argentina) and Mr. Henrikas Mickevicius (Lithuania).

The Working Group was established by the then 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. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

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.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ugo Cedrangolo (+41 22 917 9286 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

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