Enforced disappearances around the world – Explained, Pointwise


Enforced disappearances are not new. Military dictators once used it to suppress their opponents. But in recent time the disappearances occur in every region of the world. According to the United Nations, several lakhs of people have vanished during conflicts or post-conflict phase in at least 85 countries around the world.

The prime targets of enforced disappearances are Human rights defenders, people from the minority community, key witnesses, lawyers, environmentalists, etc. There is an international convention that aims to prevent enforced disappearances. But the problem still persists globally and governments are not ready to ratify the convention.

What is enforced disappearance?

Enforced disappearance is defined by several factors.

  1. It is characterised by the deprivation of liberty, where persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will
  2. There are grounds for seeking governmental responsibility for the act. For example, arrest and abduction can be done by government officials or private individuals acting on behalf of government
  3. The government will deny any such arrests and also refuse to take relevant action.

According to Amnesty International, these people are often never released and are frequently tortured. This results in the death of an arrested individual or s/he lives in constant fear of getting killed.

International efforts against enforced disappearances
United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances(WGEID)
  • Enforced disappearances are widely known to the world during the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina. During the course of the war, the Argentine military dictatorship committed the forceful disappearances of some 30,000 of its own citizens. The Argentine military dictatorship also denied kidnapping, torture, and murder of disappeared persons.
  • So to fight against systematic human rights violations, the UN Commission on Human Rights established the Working Group in 1980.
  • Under the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992), the WGEID has the following functions,
    • To assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their disappeared family members.
    • The Working Group serves as a channel of communication between family members of victims of enforced disappearance and the Governments concerned.
    • The Working Group request Governments to carry out investigations and to inform the Working Group of the results.
    • The WGEID also urges governments to offer remedies, including compensation and a guarantee of non-recurrence of the violations.
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance(ICPPED) 
  • The convention was adopted in 2006 and came into effect in 2010. It aims to prevent enforced disappearances, uncover the truth, and make sure survivors and victims’ families receive justice.
  • It is one of the strongest human rights treaties ever adopted by the UN. The convention prohibits enforced disappearances. Further, it is a legally binding instrument.
  • Implementation of the Convention is monitored by the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED). During ratification, a state may declare the competence of CED to receive and consider communications from CED on behalf of victims
  • India is a signatory to the convention. But India not yet ratified it.
Enforced Disappearances and India
  • The WGEID points out the cases in India are very few compare to the global level. The WGEID also mention these disappearances occur in the regions of Kashmir, North East and Punjab.
  • Judicial intervention in India:
    • However, the Judiciary provide relief in the form of either issuing writs of habeas corpus or criminalising extrajudicial killings. The court in Extra Judicial Victim Family Association (EEVFAM) case held that the court will consider the extrajudicial killings as a criminal offence.
    • The Supreme Court in Rudal Shah v. State of Bihar (1983) and Bhim Singh v. State of J&K (1986) case held that the illegal detention can result in right to remedy(compensation) for the victim
  • Apart from that, there is also a private members bill. The Prevention of Enforced Disappearance Bill was also introduced in parliament to fulfil India’s commitment to ICCPED.
Enforced disappearances around the world
The case of Myanmar
  • On February 1, 2021, the military launched a coup to overthrow the democratically elected government. Democracy in Myanmar elected the National League for Democracy led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
  • After that, the military wants to suppress the people’s movement. There were wider protests in Myanmar demanding freedom of expression and the restoration of democracy
  • The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has received a lot of reports since the coup. The reports highlight the enforced disappearances from the family members of victims.
  • The UN-WGEID also highlights a concern that the cases of enforced disappearances can lead to torture, arbitrary detention, and even murder in extreme situations.
Enforced disappearances in China
  • In China, the UN-WGEID has received numerous reports. Especially from members and family members concerned with civil society organisations. The enforced disappearances are high in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
  • The majority of these disappearances were due to reasons like re-education to prevent terrorism. 
  • Further, members of the Uyghur minority ethnic group were forcibly sent to vocational education and training centres’. But during their training, there was no information on their whereabouts.
  • The working group found the reasons stated by Chinese officials were often trivial in nature. For example, Relatives living abroad or for maintaining international contacts
  • Article 73 of their Criminal Procedure Law allows the Chinese Authorities to perform detention without disclosing their whereabouts.
Enforced disappearances in other parts of the world
  • Sri Lanka has experienced more than three decades of domestic conflict. During these conflicts, various forms of enforced disappearances have occurred. But after the UNHCR initiatives, the disappearances started to reduce. Now the government is promoting a culture of exemption for these crimes.
  • Pakistan and Bangladesh: Both these countries perform enforced disappearances in the name of counter-terrorism measures. The Working Group also points out that the situation will not improve in both the countries in near future.
  • Syria: Some 82,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance in Syria since 2011. The majority of them vanished into a network of government detention centres. The government is yet to take any committed actions.
Suggestions to end enforced disappearances
  1. Ratification of ICPPED: Though the convention came into effect in 2010, so far has only 63 member states. Also, only eight states from the Asia-Pacific region have ratified or acceded to the convention. So, governments around the globe have to ratify the convention. India also has to ratify the convention.
  2. The International community have to strengthen their efforts to eradicate enforced disappearances as soon as possible.
  3. Compensation and rehabilitation to the enforced individuals: Countries has to understand the importance of Human Rights violation. They should not only release the illegally detained person but also provide relief and rehabilitation for them.

The enforced disappearances not only impact the physical and psychological health of the detained person/families. Instead, they also impact various Human Rights associated with it. Such as the right to humane conditions of detention, the right to a fair trial, the right to family life and above all the right to life. So, the global countries should take actions to end this human menace.

SourceThe Hindu

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