UN human rights experts call for steps to prevent enforced disappearances

By Laxman Datt Pant

UN human rights experts call for steps to prevent enforced disappearances

To mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August, the United Nations (UN) human rights experts have called on states to further recognize the connection between enforced disappearance and economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR), in order to better prevent enforced disappearances in a holistic way.

Be it sudden arrest, detention, or abduction, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the fate of those people, enforced disappearance has extended to millions of people worldwide. In October 2020, Mohammed Ayat, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances at the UN, warned that tens of millions of disappearances are perpetrated around the world, with the daily number climbing towards 1,000 a day. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the impact on victims of enforced disappearances and their relatives.

With these alarming statistics, the UN human rights experts described enforced disappearance as “a complex crime that violates all ranges of rights, including ESCR”.

“The lack of effective protection of ESCR is a contributing factor to enforced disappearances and the people living in poverty are more vulnerable and exposed to higher risk of enforced disappearances,” they said in a statement.

The UN human rights experts observed that:

  • The enforced disappearance is used as a tool of intimidation, reprisal, and unlawful punishment against human rights defenders, including individuals who promote ESCR
  • Children who lack access to education, live in poverty, or in street situation, or have been displaced, face greater risk of being abducted to turn into child soldiers or trafficked for the purpose of exploitation
  • Migrants and persons with disability are particularly vulnerable to enforced disappearances, due to the lack of financial resources, protection schemes, as well as political, social, and cultural participation
  • In some countries, laws may make it impossible to draw a pension or receive other means of support in the absence of a death certificate, re-victimizing the victims, and aggravating further their vulnerability
  • Both the economic hardships and the devastation of losing a loved one may cause relatives of the disappeared great emotional trauma
  • In cases involving disappeared persons who are members of indigenous peoples or other ethnic or cultural groups, there is a need to consider and respect specific cultural patterns when dealing with the disappearance or death of a member of the community
  • When the body or remains of a disappeared are found and identified, they should be handed over to the family or relatives in accordance with the cultural norms and customs of the victims and their communities

The UN human rights experts have called on all States to take all measures that are necessary to avoid the additional suffering caused by the social, economic, and cultural consequences of enforced disappearance. They have urged States to address the fact that enforced disappearances put family and relatives in a very challenging position, especially when the employee of the family is disappeared.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was adopted in 2010. In force since 1976, the ESCR states that all people have the right of self-determination, and by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.