Human Rights Lexicon: Enforced disappearances

The United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/133 of 18 December 1992, defines enforced disappearance.

Following the Declaration is the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations (UN) and intended to prevent forced disappearance. The UN General Assembly adopted the text on December 20 2006 and opened for signature on February 6 2007. So far, 73 states have signed, and four have ratified. It will come into force when ratified by 20 states-parties.

Part I of the Convention states:

“Article 1
1. No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.

Article 2
For the purposes of this Convention, “enforced disappearance” is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Enforced disappearance does not refer to the manner of disappearance or the presence of violence frequently surrounding the disappearance. It is not only involuntary because it is the result of State action and enforcement of policy.

It has the following elements: first, the victim is arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty; second, the perpetrator/s are officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups, or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government; take note that the perpetrators can be private individuals but acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government; and third, it is characterized by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.

This is a doubly difficult form of suffering. The victims frequently tortured by their captors and in constant fear for their lives. Often, the captors of the enforcedly disappeared (desaparacidos) never release them and their fate remains unknown.

Their families and friends may never find out what has happened to them. Emotions alternating between hope and despair, wondering and waiting, sometimes for years, for news that may never come. They too are threatened and may suffer the same fate themselves, and that the search for the truth may expose them to greater danger.

The material loss that usually results from the disappearance compounds the emotional upheaval, made more acute by the costs incurred in the search. In some cases, it may also make it impossible to receive pension or other means of State support in the absence of a death certificate. Economic and social marginalization also frequently results.

If death is not the outcome and the captors eventually releasing the victim, the nightmare does not end, as the victim may suffer from the physical and psychological consequences of this violation, and the brutality and torture that often accompany enforced disappearances.

The victims are well aware that their families do not know what has become of them and that the chances are slim that anyone will come to their aid. The victims not only disappear from society but they are also outside the protective precinct of the law. They are at the mercy of their captors who violate their rights to security, safety and life, dignity as a person, to a fair and speedy trial.”1

The Convention attracted 57 signatures when opened for signature in Paris. The United States refused to sign, saying that “did not meet our expectations.” A number of European countries also refused to become parties. These included the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, which later signed it on April 29. As of March 2008 only Albania, Argentina, Honduras and Mexico have ratified the Convention. # Beverly Longid

1 Report entitled “Disappeared Technique of Terror”, prepared by the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues, London, 1986
2 . The initial signatories were: France, Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Congo, Croatia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Japan, Lithuania, Maldives, Moldavia, Morocco, Uganda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Macedonia, Chad, Tunisia, Vanuatu, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Cameroon, Cap Verde, Chile, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Finland, Grenada, Honduras, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Niger, Paraguay, Portugal, Samoa, Sweden, Uruguay, Mali, and Azerbaijan. The Republic of Ireland signed the Convention on 29 March 2007. Armenia signed on 10 April 2007, Ecuador on 24 May 2007 and Italy on 3 July 2007. Colombia, Denmark, Gabon, Germany, Liechtenstein, Panama, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Swaziland signed the Convention between September and October 2007. Norway signed on December 21 2007. The Netherlands signed on 29 April 2008. (NorDis)

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