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Every why hath a wherefore

August 30th, International Day of the Disappeared

Today is the annual commemoration of the tens of thousands of people that have been disappeared by oppressive governments over the years and around the world, though it shouldn’t need much pointing out that Latin America as a region has suffered more than nearly anywhere else from this practice with the famous cases of Chile’s Pinochet regime, Argentina’s Dirty War standing alongside the lesser-reported cases of the thousands missing in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia and many other states.

IKN publishes below the UN Human Rights Office’s statement on this occasion today, available at its origin here.

Statement by United Nations Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances

Geneva (30 August 2010) — Today the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances commemorates the International Day of the Disappeared. All over the world, events have been organized by the families and associations of victims to remember those that have suffered the terrible fate of being disappeared. Yet, the Working Group believes that this day ought to be commemorated by all. It is gratified that the Human Rights Council has accepted the recommendation of the Working Group that 30 August be proclaimed the International Day of the Disappeared. The Working Group supports the call by the Human Rights Council for the United Nations General Assembly to recognize this day annually. This would put a further spotlight on these heinous acts.

Thirty years after the Working Group’s establishment, which will be commemorated at an event to take place in Geneva on 5 November this year, it condemns the fact that enforced disappearances continue to occur all over the world. The Working Group reiterates its solidarity with victims, their families and others who work on the issue. It pays tribute to the many relatives of victims, human rights defenders, non-governmental organizations, lawyers and other individuals and groups who work untiringly and often in difficult circumstances to denounce cases of enforced disappearance, discover the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared, and work to eradicate this terrible practice. It invites all Governments to support the efforts of those working on enforced disappearances and to take all available measures to protect them and others, including witnesses to these crimes.

To end the practice of enforced disappearances States should continue promoting and giving full effect to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Defining enforced disappearance as a separate and autonomous criminal offence and bringing domestic legislation in conformity with the Declaration would significantly contribute to the prevention and eradication of this odious practice. The Working Group stands ready to assist states in their endeavors to give full effect to the Declaration.

The work of the Working Group is dependent on the cooperation of Governments. The role of states in investigating cases of enforced disappearances is essential to determining the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons. The Working Group therefore calls upon Governments to fully cooperate with the Working Group and take all possible measures to address cases of enforced disappearances regardless of when the disappearance occurred, who the victims were or who the perpetrators are.

States should bring all those responsible for these crimes to justice; refrain from any act of intimidation or reprisals against those persons who contribute to the eradication of this crime; and fight impunity wherever it exists.

The Working Group is pleased to note that recently in a number of countries more has been done to investigate disappearances. It is also gratified that in various states there have been convictions for those who have perpetrated enforced disappearances and that in some cases reparations have been paid to victims or their families. More, however ought to be done to prosecute offenders, provide integral reparations to victims and family members, and to preserve memory.

The Working Group recalls that, as noted in its recently released General Comment on the Right to the Truth in Relation to Enforced Disappearances, the right to the truth entails the right to know about the progress and results of an investigation, the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared persons, the circumstances of the disappearance, and the identity of the perpetrator(s). The Working Group emphasizes that the right to the truth should be enjoyed by all the victims of enforced disappearances as well as others affected by enforced disappearances. Reconciliation between the State and victims of enforced disappearances and/or their families cannot happen without the clarification of each individual case.

The Working Group is gratified that, as of 30 August 2010, 83 States have signed and 19 States have ratified the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The ratification or accession of only one more State party is required before the Convention enters into force. The implementation of the Convention, and the coming into being of the Committee on Enforced Disappearance, will strengthen States’ capacities to reduce the number of disappearances and will help realize the demands of victims and their families for justice and truth. The Working Group urges States that have not yet signed and/or ratified the Convention to do so as soon as possible. It also calls upon States to accept the competence of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of individuals under article 31 and the inter-State complaint mechanism under article 32 of the Convention.

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