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Enforced Disappearances: NGO Efforts to continue Enforced Disappearances: NGO Efforts to continue
by Rene Wadlow
2020-08-30 09:08:08
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30 August is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The Day highlights the U.N. General Assembly Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, resolution 47/133 of 18 December 1992.

disa001_400In a good number of countries, there are State-sponsored "death squads" - persons affiliated to the police or to the intelligence agencies who kill "in the dark of the night" - unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial which might attract attention. A shot in the back of the head is faster. In many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed. Death is suspected but not proved. Many family members hope for a return. In addition to governments, non-governmental armed groups and criminal gangs have the same practices.

Also to be considered among the "disappeared" are the secret imprisonment of persons at places unknown to their relatives or to legal representatives. The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has a Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, created in 1980 which has registered some 46,000 cases of people who disappeared under unknown circumstances.

Disappearances was one of the first issues to be raised, largely by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) when the U.N. Secretariat Center for Human Rights with a new director, Theo van Boven, moved from New York to Geneva in 1977. After seizing power in 1976, Argentina's military rulers set out to kill opposition figures and at the same time to weaken the U.N. 's human rights machinery in case the U.N. objected. The Argentinean ambassadors to the U.N. used delaying tactics in order to give the military time to kill as many suspected "subversives" as possible.

In 1980, a group of Argentinian mothers of the disappeared came to Geneva and some entered the public gallery and silently put on their symbolic white head scarves. (1)

Today, the issue of the disappeared and of the secretly imprisoned continues, sometimes on a large scale such as in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the only non-governmental organization with the recognized mandate to deal with specific prisoners, enabling a minimum level of contact and inspection of their treatment. However, the mandate functions only when the prisoners are known, not kept in "black holes" or killed.

The Association of World Citizens stresses that much more needs to be done in terms of prevention, protection, and search for disappeared persons. On 30 August, we will reaffirm our dedication to this effort.

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Note:
1) See Iain Guest. Behind the Disappearances: Argentina's Dirty War Against Human Rights and the United Nations (Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990) Iain Guest was the Geneva U.N. correspondent for The Guardian and The International Herald Tribune. He had access to Argentinian confidential documents once the military left power as well as interviewing many diplomats and NGO representatives active in Geneva-based human rights work. This book is probably the most detailed look at how human rights efforts are carried out at the U.N. Geneva-based human rights bodies.

 ******************************

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

 


    
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