At General Assembly, UN experts urged global action on enforced disappearances

Relatives of abducted children speak out for the disappeared in Lamwo district, northern Uganda. Photo: IRIN/Philippa Croome

Relatives of abducted children speak out for the disappeared in Lamwo district, northern Uganda. Photo: IRIN/Philippa Croome

New York, 22 October 2014 – States must take full responsibility to solve all aspects of the issue of enforced disappearances: prevention; search for the disappeared; punishment of the perpetrators; and reparation for the victims, the Chairs of two United Nations expert bodies addressing the General Assembly on the issue declared today.

“All this needs a strong and committed institutional response, while too often it is left to the initiative of the families of the disappeared or their associations,” said the two UN experts on enforced disappearances as they addressed in New York the General Assembly’s main body dealing with social, humanitarian and cultural issues (Third Committee).

“Time for promises has passed. Now it is the time to act,” declared Ariel Dulitzky, from theWorking Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and Emmanuel Decaux, from the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, calling for new and better strategies to prevent, eradicate and respond to enforced disappearances.

“The recognition of the problem and of its dimension is the first and essential step to develop effective and comprehensive measures for its eradication,” the human rights experts said, emphasizing that States must now take full responsibility to solve the issue in all its aspects: prevention; search for the disappeared; punishment of the perpetrators; and reparation for the victims.

The independent experts also expressed deep concern at the fact that threats, intimidations and reprisals against families and human rights defenders not only persist but seem to be on the rise.

“States need to take specific and strong measures to prevent and punish these acts and protect all those involved in the search for the disappeared…We also call upon this Assembly to ensure a systematic response to reprisals against those who cooperate with the United Nations.”

Mr. Dulitzky stressed the importance of ensuring that all the information which may be useful to shed light on disappearances be available and accessible: “All archives where such information may be found shall be open to the public and appropriate legislation on access to information needs to be adopted to allow individuals to request information from the State.”

“The institutional reaction has to be immediate when an enforced disappearance occurs,” he said, while calling for a wider use of new technologies and programs and protocols for the search for the disappeared. “There can be no delays as the first hours and days are crucial for a successful investigation and many times to save the lives of the disappeared,” he noted.

Presenting the third report of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to the General Assembly, Mr. Decaux said that “enforced disappearance, a heinous crime, is the negation of the rule of law and ultimately of the recognition of the existence of a human being before the law. States must reaffirm the primacy of human rights through internal and international guarantees.”

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearance offers a set of international guarantees, he noted, urging all Members States that have not done yet so to ratify the Convention.

“The Convention is clear,” Mr. Decaux added. “Families and friends of a disappeared person are themselves victims, and they have the right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation, and ultimately the fate of the disappeared person.”

“We call on States to commit to adopt effective policies and take adequate measures to prevent and eradicate the plague of enforced disappearances and ensure truth, justice, reparation and memory for the victims,” concluded the UN human rights experts.