Joint statement by the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on occasion of the International Day of of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

“Search and investigation are international law obligations not an option,” say UN experts on enforced disappearances

GENEVA (28 August 2018) – States around the world must act urgently to search for people who have been subject to enforced disappearances, and ensure that this heinous crime is properly investigated, say a group of UN human rights experts*.

“Relatives have a right, as victims themselves, to know the truth about the circumstances of any enforced disappearance, the whereabouts of their loved ones, the progress and results of the investigation, and ultimately the fate of the disappeared person,” the UN experts said in a statement to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August 2018.

“Measures to achieve truth and justice for enforced disappearances should be parallel and go hand in hand. There is no truth without justice and no justice without truth,” they added.

The Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, Suela Janina, emphasised: “The search for those who have disappeared is a right of the victims and an obligation of States, and should be carried out in good faith and in a diligent and effective manner.

“Under these obligations, States that are parties to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance should immediately search for any individual who has disappeared. They should also develop public policies to facilitate searches in close consultation with relatives of the disappeared person. The search should be carried out in accordance with an integral strategy in which all hypotheses should be thoroughly explored,” she pointed out.

“The authorities in charge of the search should be independent and have sufficient human and financial resources; they should properly coordinate the search and have unrestricted access to all information relevant to locate the disappeared person. The authorities in charge of the search should always allow for the full participation of relatives or their representatives, who should be regularly informed of progress and be protected from security risks. The duty to search is permanent and continues until the fate and whereabouts, of those who have disappeared are determined,” Ms Janina added.

To help States parties to the Convention to carry out the search for disappeared person in compliance with their conventional obligations, the UN Committee is currently developing Guiding Principles.

The Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group, Bernard Duhaime, said: “While international standards provide some guidance in order to establish a solid legal framework in the areas of investigation of enforced disappearances, the question of how States should implement this obligation in practice should be studied more in depth.”

That was why the Working Group decided to address the issue of standards and public policies for effective investigation of enforced disappearances in its next thematic report, Mr Duhaime added.

“All States should introduce an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance. The lack of such an offence in the criminal legislation creates a situation whereby enforced disappearances are often investigated and prosecuted under other crimes. This is highly problematic in terms of the specific investigation required from the outset in these cases as it may result in delays and inefficiencies in the investigation,” said Mr. Duhaime.

“Any delays would be contrary to the provisions of both the United Nations Convention and theDeclaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which provide that allegations of enforced disappearances shall be investigated thoroughly and impartially, and are State obligations under international law. These instruments also establish that all those involved in and/or conducting the investigation, should be protected against ill-treatment, intimidation or reprisal,” he added.

In their joint statements, the experts said: “Regrettably, way too often we have received reports of reprisals, threats and intimidation of relatives and human rights defenders working on enforced disappearances. It is wrong that they should be unsupported in their legitimate quest, and certainly not acceptable that they are obstructed or even punished.

“We reaffirm our solidarity with, and support for, victims of enforced disappearance, their relatives and those helping them in their struggle for truth and justice. The Committee and the Working Group will continue their coordinated work to assist them with resolve and determination, while calling on States to strengthen their efforts and enhance international cooperation to achieve the goals.

“We reiterate our call to all States that have not yet done so, to expeditiously become parties to the Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances and to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and examine individual complaints,” they concluded.