Skip to main content

Press releases Multiple Mechanisms

Switzerland: UN experts welcome landmark trial on enforced disappearances in Belarus

14 September 2023

GENEVA (14 September 2023) – UN experts* today welcomed the decision by a court in Switzerland to put a former member of a Belarusian paramilitary unit on trial for his alleged involvement in the enforced disappearance of three opposition leaders in 1999.

“The upcoming trial is a fundamental step towards justice and reparation for the victims and will help uncover the truth about the fate and whereabouts of Mr Yury Zakharanka, former Minister of Interior of Belarus, Mr Viktar Hanchar, former Prime Minister of Belarus, and Mr Anatol Krasouski, a well-known political opponent,” the experts said, noting that the cases were presented to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and are still outstanding in its dockets.

The trial, set for 19-20 September 2023, is noteworthy because it is the first time that an accused is being tried for the crime of enforced disappearance under the principle of universal jurisdiction, the experts said. The principle of universal jurisdiction allows the prosecution of gross human rights violations and international crimes regardless of where they were committed and the nationality of the suspect or the victims.

The State's obligation to prosecute is enshrined in Article 14 of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and in Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

“Recent developments in Switzerland confirm that universal jurisdiction is a solid bulwark against impunity,” the experts said.

They warned that in the absence of accountability for past crimes, the risk of recurrence of human rights violations in Belarus remains high.

“The trial sends a strong message that there shall not be no safe haven for perpetrators of gross human rights violations, including enforced disappearances,” the experts said.

They also stressed that the trial in Switzerland demonstrates the importance of codifying enforced disappearance as a separate offence, as this is a prerequisite for adequately addressing the complex and unique nature of the crime.

“The outcome of the proceedings underway can become landmark and a source of inspiration for authorities in other States about how to concretely implement their international obligations and leave no room for impunity for gross human rights violations,” the experts said.


Ms Aua Baldé (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms Gabriella Citroni (Vice-Chair), Ms Angkhana Neelapaijit, Ms Grażyna Baranowska, Ms Ana Lorena Delgadillo Pérez, Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; Ms Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Mr Juan Pablo Albán Alencastro (Rapporteur), Mr Mohammed Ayat, Mr Matar Diop (Vice President), Mr Olivier de Frouville (Chair), Ms Suela Janina, Mr Fidelis Kanyongolo, Ms Milica Kolakovic-Bojovic (Vice President), Ms Barbara Lochbihler, Mr Horacio Ravenna (Vice President), and Ms Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

The Working Group 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. It continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. The Working Group also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. More information on the Working Group.

Watch and learn more about the history of the Working Group, and on how to submit a caseto the Working Group.

Read the Working Group's 2022 report to the UN Human Rights Council and post-sessional documents.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances is one of the United Nations Treaty Bodies. It gathers 10 independent experts in charge of monitoring the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of all Persons against enforced disappearances by States parties. These experts are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights, nominated by States parties to the Convention. They serve in their personal capacity and are independent and impartial. To date, the Convention has been ratified by 72 member States. More information on the Committee.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

Mr. Ugo Cedrangolo ([email protected] or [email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and
Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

For media enquiries regarding the Treaty Bodies, please contact:
Vivian Kwok ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts 

Concerned about the world we live in? 
Then STAND UP for someone's rights today. 
and visit the web page at