Newsletter. Enforced disappearances

Newsletter No. 4 2017 Enforced disappearances

27.11 2017

Dear friends and colleagues,

“Enforced disappearance is a shameful practice and a crime under international human rights law, whether it is used to repress political dissent, combat organized crime or carried out under the guise of fighting terrorism.” 

Suela Janina, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances

Enforced disappearance is a global problem, not restricted to a specific region of the world. The figures differ, some reports say that as many as 100 000 might be missing in Colombia and after the war in the Balkans in the 1990s almost 15 000 people remain unaccounted for. In Peru the number of people missing is 15 000, Nepal 1300, El Salvador 9000 and so it continues.

In December 2006 the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from enforced Disappearance, was adopted and it entered into force in 2007. The Convention is now signed by 49 states and ratified by 58. Every day people go missing, and thousands of people are forcedly disappeared, every year due to circumstances such as internal conflict, or as a means of political repression of persons in opposition to the dominant political power. The threats that are directed towards human rights defenders, witnesses and lawyers fighting the practice of enforced disappearances, are very serious and must be reacted to. Also, relatives of victims of enforced disappearance are unsecure and under threat. On the 30 of August each year the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances commemorates the International Day of the Disappeared. All over the world, events are organized by the families and associations of victims to remember those that have suffered the terrible fate of being disappeared, often with impunity for those who are responsible.

An important aspect of this, and something which could need more attention is the mental health situation for family members, relatives and friends of persons disappeared. The uncertainty that the relatives are living with, is extremely stressful and are scars or open wounds that may threaten the psychological health of those involved. For many this represents serious psychological trauma or even lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The terror and trauma of living without the beloved ones who have disappeared, are described by in the article of Margriet Blaauw and Virpi Lähteenmäki “Denial and silence’ or ‘acknowledgement and disclosure” and in the book of Paz Rojas Baeza La interminable ausencia. Estudio médico, psicológico y político de la desaparición forzada de personas, (“The neverending absence. A medical, psychological and political study on enforced disappearances of persons”, the book is only in Spanish). In which, the consequences for the family and the community, where enforced disappearances are described and discussed from a psychosocial health point of view.

“The disappeared are denied a place among the living and also denied a place among the dead.”

Shari Eppel, Amani Trust Zimbabwe.

The lack of a body to mourn similarly causes serious psychological distress amongst the relatives. Without the possibility to identify the loved one, and provide a burial and a last farewell for those lost, the relatives cannot grieve in the way that seemed right to them, or adjust to the loss, reorganize the future and go on with their lives.

Often the person that has been forcefully disappeared is the breadwinner in the family. Thus the loss is made worse by lack of income. Without a death certificate it is difficult to acquire the rights that they are entitled to, in the form of pensions or compensations. Forced disappearances, constitute in all possible ways, one of the most severe human rights violations, forcing both victims and families into long-lasting suffering, with strong psychological and social consequences, even over generations.

There are several organizations that work with the human rights of disappeared persons and their families:

Get assistance – from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Under article 30 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons against Enforced Disappearances, it states that the Committee has competence to receive and consider requests for urgent action submitted by the relatives of a disappeared person or their legal representatives, their counsel or any person authorized by them, as well as by any other person having a legitimate interest, that seek to ensure that the State party take, as a matter of urgency, all necessary measures to seek and find a disappeared person.


Further reading on enforced or involuntary disappearances

Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
OHCHR, Fact Sheet 6/Rev.3, July 2009
A disappearance has a doubly paralysing impact: on the victims, frequently tortured and in constant fear for their lives, and on their families, ignorant of the fate of their loved ones, their emotions alternating between hope and despair, wondering and waiting, sometimes for years, for news that may never come. The victims are well aware that their families do not know what has become of them and that the chances are slim that anyone will come to their aid.

No place for enforced disappearances in 2017, UN experts say 
OHCHR, October 2017
Enforced disappearance should not exist in the 21st century, but reports of the “heinous” crime continue to be received in unacceptably high numbers, two UN experts* say, stressing that the cases they receive represent only a small percentage of a much worse and gruesome reality.

No More “Missing Persons”: The Criminalization of Enforced Disappearance in South Asia
International Commission of Jurists, August 2017
This report analyzes States’ obligations under international law to ensure acts of enforced disappearance constitute a distinct, autonomous offence under national law. It also provides an overview of the practice of enforced disappearance, focusing specifically on the status of the criminalization of the practice, in five South Asian countries: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal

Missing Persons: A Handbook for Parliamentarians 
ICRC, 2009
Disappearances are a tragedy not just for the individual but also for families, who are left in the dark. Not knowing what has become of a husband or wife, child, father, mother, brother or sister is a source of terrible anguish for countless families affected by armed conflict or internal violence all over the world.

We Need the Truth: Enforced Disappearances in Asia
Katharina Lauritsch, 2010
People working in several countries with families of enforced disappeared persons, came together and write jointly an article about the situation of enforced disappearances in their countries, explaining the political and historical background, the current context and sharing some thoughts about future perspectives.

Enforced Disappearances – An Information Guide for Human Rights Defenders and CSOs 
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) January 2016
This publication speaks about enforced disappearances and underscores why it is an important issue of human rights concerns globally. It begins by seeking to demystify the phenomenon of “disappearance” itself, exploring the various circumstances in which people disappear, thereby disaggregating the various scenarios into categories of disappearance.

International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance 
PART I. Article 1
1. No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance. 2. 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

Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance 
UN General Assembly, December 1992
Considering that enforced disappearance undermines the deepest values of any society committed to respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that the systematic practice of such acts is of the nature of a crime against humanity

Inter/American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons (1994)
Article I. The States Parties to this Convention undertake:
a. Not to practice, permit, or tolerate the forced disappearance of persons, even in states of emergency or suspension of individual guarantees; b. To punish within their jurisdictions, those persons who commit or attempt to commit the crime of forced disappearance of persons and their accomplices and accessories; c. To cooperate with one another in helping to prevent, punish, and eliminate the forced disappearance of persons; d. To take legislative, administrative, judicial, and any other measures necessary to comply with the commitments undertaken in this Convention.

Between prison and the grave enforced disappearances in Syria 
Amnesty November 2015
Amnesty International’s research shows that the enforced disappearances carried out by the Syrian government since 2011 were perpetrated as part of an organized attack against the civilian population that has been widespread, as well as systematic, and therefore amount to crimes against humanity.

Toward a Better Understanding of Psychological Symptoms in People Confronted with the Disappearance of a Loved One 
A Systematic Review. Lonneke I. M et al. 2017
The small number of studies and the heterogeneity of the studies limit the understanding of psychopathology in those left behind. More knowledge about psychopathology post disappearance could be gained by expanding the focus of research beyond disappearances due to war or state terrorism.

The international Day of on the Elimination of Violence Against Women

In the context of the International Day on the Elimination of Violence against women 25th of November, we just want to remind you of our GBV manual and how to access it. The Arabic, Russian and Spanish versions of our training manual Mental health and gender-based violence: Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict is available for free. If you would like a hard copy, please send us an e-mailexplaining what kind of work you are doing and why would you need the manual it. Our sponsors have kindly covered the printing and mailing costs. A few weeks after sending the manual, we will send you a link to a Google questionnaire. We hope you can give us a few minutes to provide us with your feedback on your experience in using the manual and how you applied it in your working practice. please note that complementary to the GBV Manual, we have developed a tool box which you also can accessed for free in English, Spanish, Korean, Georgian and Romanian if you visit our GBV manual web page. We would like to encourage you direct your questions or feedback to us through our e-mail.

All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

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Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,

Mental Health and Human Rights Info