International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

The 30th of August is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  TheUN Secretary-General’s message for this day in 2019 was:

“I call on States to do more to prevent enforced disappearances and bring to justice those responsible.  To this end, I call on countries to cooperate fully with UN mechanisms.  I also urge all States that have not yet done so to sign, ratify or accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.”

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance[link] was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2006.  The convention states that enforced disappearance occurs when:

“persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by 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, followed 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.

On 21 December 2010 the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern about the increase in enforced disappearances in various regions of the world and set a day to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.  The UN continues to express concern that whereas in the past enforced disappearances were mostly a tool of military dictatorships, nowadays enforced disappearances are perpetrated in situations of internal conflict, especially as a means of political repression of opponents.  Of particular concern is:

  • the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders, relatives of victims, witnesses and legal counsel dealing with cases of enforced disappearance;
  • the use by States of counter-terrorist activities as an excuse for breaching their obligations; and
  • the still widespread impunity for enforced disappearance.

Victims of enforced disappearances are frequently tortured and in constant fear for their lives.  Having been removed from the protection of the law and “disappeared” from society, victims of enforced disappearance are in fact deprived of all their rights and are at the mercy of their captors.  Some of the human rights that enforced disappearances regularly violate are:

  • The right to recognition as a person before the law;
  • The right to liberty and security of the person;
  • The right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • The right to life, when the disappeared person is killed;
  • The right to an identity;
  • The right to a fair trial and to judicial guarantees;
  • The right to an effective remedy, including reparation and compensation;
  • The right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of a disappearance.

The families and friends of the victims suffer anguish, not knowing whether the victim is still alive and, if so, where he or she is being held, under what conditions, and in what state of health.  The family’s distress is frequently compounded by the material consequences of the disappearance.  The disappeared person is often the family’s main breadwinner.  In some cases, national legislation may make it impossible to draw a pension or receive other means of support in the absence of a death certificate.  Economic and social marginalization is frequently the result.

Enforced disappearance has frequently been used as a strategy to spread terror within a society.  The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects their communities and society as a whole.

When committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, a “forced disappearance” qualifies as a crime against humanity and, thus, is not subject to a statute of limitations.  This means the victims if they survive and the victims’ families will always have the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.

On this day in Zimbabwe we are reminded to stand with people whose families are looking for answers and are seeking to know the whereabouts of their loved ones.  We are reminded to stand with those whose rights as set out in the Constitution of Zimbabwe [such as the right to life, section 48 , the right to liberty section 49), the rights of those arrested and detained section 50, the right to human dignity section 51 and personal security section 52] have been violated.

Zimbabwe is still not a State Party to the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

We call upon the Government of Zimbabwe to accede to the Convention.

Veritas makes every effort to ensure reliable information, but cannot take legal responsibility for information supplied.

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