IBAHRI calls on UN Member States to uphold international law prohibiting enforced disappearances

Friday 28 August 2020


To mark the United Nations International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on Sunday 30 August 2020, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) calls on UN Member States to:

  • uphold international law prohibiting enforced disappearances;
  • intensify searches for forcibly disappeared persons;
  • hold accountable and punish those perpetrating enforced disappearances; and
  • provide adequate remedy for the victims’ relatives, including, but not limited to, monetary compensation, legal assistance, medical and psychological care, and rehabilitation.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996–2006), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, commented: ‘The IBAHRI is deeply troubled by the widespread prevalence of the crime of enforced disappearances, despite being prohibited under international law. Particularly odious in nature, enforced disappearances are a continuous human rights violation that does not cease until the fate or whereabouts of a person is ascertained. Too often neither is established, creating more victims as the loved ones of those disappeared are consigned to a condition of perpetual limbo.’

Mr Kirby added: ‘Today, we stand in solidarity with all victims of enforced disappearances. We remind Member States of Article 3 of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which asserts “each State shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent and terminate acts of enforced disappearance.” The IBAHRI calls on UN Member States to investigate these abductions and punish those responsible, to search more diligently for forcibly disappeared persons, and provide reparations for relatives in recognition of what they have endured and to aid them in seeking justice. States have responsibilities that must be met.’

Distinct from other types of abductions, there are three key elements that define enforced disappearances. These include:

  • deprivation of a person’s liberty, coupled with the unknown fate and whereabouts of an individual;
  • crime perpetrated by a state official, or a private actor, acting with the support, tolerance or acquiescence of the state; and
  • denial of the detention and not providing information on the fate or whereabouts of the person who has disappeared.

Despite being prohibited under international law, enforced disappearances continue at alarming levels across the world. At its 120th session in February 2020, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) revealed 205 newly reported cases across 13 States. The summary of the Working Group’s report from the 42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2019 states: ‘Since its inception in 1980, the Working Group has transmitted a total of 57,891 cases to 108 States. The number of cases under active consideration that have not yet been clarified, closed or discontinued stands at 45,811 in a total of 92 States.’

Article 1 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (‘the Convention’) states that ‘no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance’ and that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.’ Presently, the Convention has 98 signatories.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary-General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc commented: ‘The IBAHRI urges all States to ratify the Convention, fully respect, protect and fulfil the rights contained therein. Enforced disappearances violate a range of human rights, including the right to liberty and security, the right to recognition before the law, the right to a fair trial and due process, and the right to an effective remedy. Its multidimensional and continuous nature impacts both the direct victims of enforced disappearance and their families as indirect victims vis-à-vis the right to know the truth.’

Ms Ramberg added: ‘To effectively tackle enforced disappearances, national legislation, policies and practices must reflect and uphold international human rights law standards and norms. The IBAHRI calls on States to ensure that institutions are erected and afforded the necessary independence and resources to credibly and effectively implement their mandates.’

In July 2019, the IBAHRI published a report on international standards for the search for forcibly disappeared persons. The publication aims to contribute to the global effort, including that of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (‘the Committee’) in the search for victims. The IBAHRI’s study analyses the work of the Committee, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the WGEID, identifies gaps in the reports and decisions of these bodies, and makes recommendations for systematising and conducting official searches for the disappeared.

Since September 2019, a number of countries, including Iraq and Thailand, have taken steps towards enacting national legislation to criminalise enforced disappearance.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  4. Follow the IBAHRI on Twitter here: twitter.com/IBAHRI

For further information please contact:

Romana St. Matthew - Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association
4th Floor, 10 St Bride Street,
London EC4A 4AD

Mobile: +44 (0)7940 731 915
Direct Line: +44 (0)20 7842 0094
Main Office: +44 (0)20 7842 0090
Fax: +44 (0)20 7842 0091

Email: romana.daniel@int-bar.org
Website: www.ibanet.org

IBA website page link for this news release:
Short link: tinyurl.com/yxmwnn2a