Enforced disappearance has regularly been used as a tool for instilling fear and exert control over a population. The feeling of insecurity it generates is not limited to close relatives of the disappeared, but also their communities and society as a whole.
In a post on social media platform X, The UN chief said enforced disappearance was “a serious human rights violation that has frequently been used to spread terror…I call on countries to help put an end to this atrocious crime”.
News that may never come
According to the UN human rights office (OHCHR), enforced disappearance can be defined as the arrest, detention, or abduction of an individual by the State or group acting with the authorization of the State, followed by concealment of the whereabouts of the disappeared person.
It is a crime under International Human Rights Law. Victims are frequently subjected to torture and live in perpetual fear for their lives. Their families, ignorant of the fate of their loved ones, are left wondering and waiting for news that may never come.
According to the UN, hundreds of thousands of people have vanished during conflicts or periods of repression in at least 85 countries around the world.
‘Every day is a fight’
“For the families & friends of the disappeared, every day is a fight to know the fate & whereabouts of their loved ones. Truth & justice are essential,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, in a tweet on Wednesday.
Enforced disappearance, once largely the product of military dictatorships, has become a global problem and is not restricted to a specific region of the world. It has been used frequently as a means of political repression.
At the same time as the UN General Assembly sanctioned the international day in December 2010, the same resolution adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and declared 30 August the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, beginning in 2011.
OHCHR officials and a large group of UN-appointed regional human rights experts urged States to provide effective access to justice for victims who have suffered harm as the direct result of enforced disappearance, in a statement delivered on Tuesday.
They warned that ensuring adequate access to justice and proper accountability for perpetrators at all levels was critical.
“Access to justice must not be merely theoretical but guaranteed in practice through concrete measures that promote and fully value the genuine and meaningful participation of victims and their representatives throughout the process,” the experts said.
In the context of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, OHCHR officials and the group of UN-appointed human rights experts jointly called on all member states to make pledges to promote justice for all victims of enforced disappearances without delay, and to ratify international and regional instruments on enforced disappearances.
UN-appointed regional human rights experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, work on a voluntary and unpaid basis, are not UN staff, and work independently from any government or organisation.