|This article is outdated. (September 2013)|
In international human rights law, a forced disappearance (or enforced disappearance) occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person's fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force on 1 July 2002, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, a "forced disappearance" qualifies as a crime against humanity and, thus, is not subject to a statute of limitations. On 20 December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Often forced disappearance implies murder. The victim in such a case is abducted, illegally detained and often tortured during interrogation; killed, and the body hidden. Typically, a murder will be surreptitious, with the corpse disposed of to escape discovery, so that the person apparently vanishes. The party committing the murder has deniability, as nobody provides evidence of the victim's death.
Disappearing political rivals is also a way for regimes to engender feelings of complicity in populations. That is: the difficulty of publicly fighting a government which murders in secret can result in widespread pretense that everything is normal, as it did in Argentina.
- 1 Human rights law
- 2 Examples
- 2.1 Algeria
- 2.2 Argentina
- 2.3 Chile
- 2.4 Colombia
- 2.5 El Salvador
- 2.6 Equatorial Guinea
- 2.7 Germany
- 2.8 Guatemala
- 2.9 India
- 2.10 Iraq
- 2.11 Iran
- 2.12 Mexico
- 2.13 Morocco / Western Sahara
- 2.14 North Korea
- 2.15 Pakistan
- 2.16 Northern Ireland
- 2.17 Romania
- 2.18 Russia
- 2.19 Sri Lanka
- 2.20 Switzerland
- 2.21 Syria
- 2.22 Thailand
- 2.23 Turkey
- 2.24 United States
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Human rights law
In international human rights law, disappearances at the hands of the state have been codified as "enforced" or "forced disappearances" since the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. For example, the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court defines enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity, and the practice is specifically addressed by the OAS's Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. There is also some authority indicating that enforced disappearances occurring during armed conflict, such as the Third Reich's Night and Fog program, may constitute war crimes.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2006, also states that the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity. It gives victims' families the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones. The Convention provides for the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, as well as the right for the relatives of the disappeared person to know the truth. The Convention contains several provisions concerning prevention, investigation and sanctioning of this crime, as well as the rights of victims and their relatives, and the wrongful removal of children born during their captivity. The Convention further sets forth the obligation of international co-operation, both in the suppression of the practice, and in dealing with humanitarian aspects related to the crime. The Convention establishes a Committee on Enforced Disappearances, which will be charged with important and innovative functions of monitoring and protection at international level. Currently, an international campaign of the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances is working towards universal ratification of the Convention.
Disappearances work on two levels: not only do they silence opponents and critics who have disappeared, but they also create uncertainty and fear in the wider community, silencing others who would oppose and criticise. Disappearances entail the violation of many fundamental human rights. For the disappeared person, these include the right to liberty, the right to personal security and humane treatment (including freedom from torture), the right to a fair trial, to legal counsel and to equal protection under the law, and the right of presumption of innocence among others. Their families, who often spend the rest of their lives searching for information on the disappeared, are also victims.
During the Algerian Civil War, which began in 1992 as Islamist guerrillas attacked the military government which had annulled an Islamist electoral victory, thousands of people were forcibly disappeared. Disappearances continued up to the late 1990s, but thereafter dropped off sharply with the decline in violence in 1997. Some of the disappeared were kidnapped or killed by the guerrillas, but others are presumed to have been taken by state security services. This latter group has become the most controversial. Their exact numbers remain disputed, but the government has acknowledged a figure of just over 6,000 disappeared, now presumed dead. Opposition sources claim the real number is closer to 17,000. (The war claimed a total toll of 150–200,000 deaths).
In 2005, a controversial amnesty law was approved in a referendum. It granted financial compensation to families of the "disappeared", but also effectively ended the police investigations into the crimes.
During Argentina's Dirty War and Operation Condor, many alleged political dissidents were abducted or illegally detained and kept in clandestine detention centres such as ESMA, where they were questioned, tortured and sometimes killed. The disappeared ones were people who were considered to be a political or ideological threat to the military junta. The Argentine military justified torture to obtain intelligence and saw the disappearances as a way to curb political dissidence. Whenever the female captives were pregnant, their children were stolen away right after giving birth, while they themselves remained detained. It is estimated that 500 young children and infants were given to families with close ties to the military to be raised. Eventually, many of the captives were heavily drugged and loaded onto aircraft, from which they were thrown alive while in flight over the Atlantic Ocean, so as to leave no trace of their death. Without any dead bodies, the government could easily deny any knowledge of their whereabouts and any accusations that they had been killed. In addition, the forced disappearances was the military junta’s attempt to silence the opposition and break the determination of the guerrillas. People murdered in this way (and in others) are today referred to as "the disappeared" (los desaparecidos). There is an activist group called "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo", formed by mothers of those victims of the dictatorship. In addition, a similar group was formed, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo with the goal of finding the children stolen by the Argentine government during the Dirty War. Mathematician Boris Weisfeiler is thought to have disappeared near Colonia Dignidad, a German colony founded by anti-Communist Paul Schäfer in Chile, which was used as a detention center by the DINA, the secret police.
The phrase was recognized by de facto President General Jorge Rafael Videla, who said in a press conference, "They are neither dead nor alive, they are desaparecidos (missing)". It is thought that in Argentina, between 1976 and 1983, up to 30,000 people (8,960 named cases, according to the official report by the CONADEP) were killed or disappeared. According to a declassified cable, an estimate by the Argentine 601st Intelligence Battalion in mid-July 1978 (which started counting victims in 1975) produced a figure of 22,000 persons killed or "disappeared"– this document was first published by John Dinges in 2004.
|“||He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) ... Pinochet's name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex.||”|
Almost immediately after the military's seizure of power on 11 September 1973, the Chilean military junta banned all the leftist parties that had constituted the democratically-elected president Salvador Allende's UP coalition. All other parties were placed in "indefinite recess", and were later banned outright. The regime's violence was directed not only against dissidents, but also against their families and other civilians. [See: Missing (1982)]
The Rettig Report concluded 2,279 persons who disappeared during the military dictatorship were killed for political reasons or as a result of political violence, and approximately 31,947 tortured according to the later Valech Report, while 1,312 were exiled. The latter were chased all over the world by the intelligence agencies. In Latin America, this was made under the auspices of Operation Condor, a combined operation between the intelligence agencies of various South American countries, assisted by a United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) communication base in Panama. Pinochet justified these operations as being necessary in order to save the country from communism.
Some political scientists have ascribed the relative bloodiness of the coup to the stability of the existing democratic system, which required extreme action to overturn. Some of the most famous cases of human rights violations occurred during the early period: in October 1973, at least 70 people were killed throughout the country by the Caravan of Death. Charles Horman, a US journalist, "disappeared", as did Víctor Olea Alegría, a member of the Socialist Party, and many others, in 1973.
Furthermore, many other important officials of Allende's government were tracked down by the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA—the Chilean secret police) during Operation Condor. Thus, General Carlos Prats, Pinochet's predecessor and army commander under Allende, who had resigned rather than support the moves against Allende's government, was assassinated by a car bomb in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1974. A year later, the murder of 119 opponents abroad was disguised as an internal conflict, the DINA setting up a propaganda campaign to legitimise this thesis (Operation Colombo), a campaign that received impetus by the leading newspaper in Chile, El Mercurio.
Other victims of Condor included, among hundreds of less famous persons, Juan José Torres, the former President of Bolivia, assassinated in Buenos Aires on 2 June 1976; Carmelo Soria, a UN diplomat working for the CEPAL, assassinated in July 1976; and Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States and minister in Allende's cabinet, assassinated after his release from internment and exile in Washington, D.C. by a car bomb on 21 September 1976. This led to strained relations with the US and to the extradition of Michael Townley, a US citizen who worked for the DINA and had organized Letelier's assassination. Other targeted victims, who escaped assassination, included Christian-Democrat politician Bernardo Leighton, who barely escaped an assassination attempt in Rome in 1975 by the Italian neo-fascist terrorist Stefano delle Chiaie (the assassination attempt seriously injured Leighton and his wife, Anita Fresno, leaving her permanently disabled); Carlos Altamirano, the leader of the Chilean Socialist Party, targeted for murder in 1975 by Pinochet, along with Volodia Teitelboim, writer and member of the Communist Party; Pascal Allende, the nephew of Salvador Allende and president of the MIR, who escaped an assassination attempt in Costa Rica in March 1976; and US Congressman Edward Koch, who became aware in 2001 of the relationship between death threats he received and his denunciation of Operation Condor. Furthermore, according to current investigations, Eduardo Frei Montalva, the Christian Democrat President of Chile from 1964 to 1970, may have been poisoned in 1982 by a toxin produced by DINA biochemist Eugenio Berrios.
Protests continued, however, during the 1980s, leading to several scandals. In March 1985, the savage murder of three Communist Party of Chile (PCC) members led to the resignation of César Mendoza, head of the Chilean gendarmerie the Carabineros de Chile and member of the junta since its formation. During a 1986 protest against Pinochet, 21-year-old American photographer Rodrigo Rojas DeNegri and 18-year-old student Carmen Gloria Quintana were burnt alive, killing Rojas.
In August 1989, Marcelo Barrios Andres, a 21-year-old member of the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front (FPMR, the armed wing of the PCC, created in 1983, which had attempted to assassinate Pinochet on 7 September 1986), was assassinated by a group of military personnel who were supposed to arrest him on orders of Valparaíso's public prosecutor. However, they simply summarily executed him; this case was included in the Rettig Report. Among the killed and disappeared during the military dictatorship were 440 MIR guerrillas.
In 2009, Colombian prosecutors reported that an estimated 28,000 people have disappeared due to paramilitary and guerrilla groups during the nation's ongoing internal conflict. In 2008, the corpses of 300 victims were identified and 600 more during the following year. According to Colombian officials, it will take many years before all the bodies that have been recovered are identified.
According to the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, enforced disappearances were systematically carried out in El Salvador both prior to (starting in 1978) and during the Salvadoran Civil War. Salvadoran non-governmental organizations estimate that more than 8,000 disappearances occurred, and in the Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador, it is estimated that more than 5,500 persons may have been the victims of enforced disappearance. The Office of the Procurator for the Protection of Human Rights of El Salvador claims that
Disappearances usually took place during operations whose purpose was the detention and later the disappearance or execution of persons identified as or suspected of being government opponents, including civilians who had nothing to do with the conflict, with the apparent aim of generating terror and eliminating members of the population who might potentially become guerrillas.
Enforced disappearances of children occurred, which is thought to have been "part of a deliberate strategy within the violence institutionalized by the State during the period of conflict".
According to the UN Human Rights Council Mission to Equatorial Guinea, agents of the Equatorial Guinean Government have been responsible for abducting refugees from other countries in the region, and holding them in secret detention. For example, in January 2010 four men were abducted from Benin by Equatorial Guinean security forces, held in secret detention, subjected to torture, and executed in August 2010 immediately after being convicted by a military court.
During World War II, Nazi Germany set up secret police forces, including branches of the Gestapo in occupied countries, which they used to hunt down known or suspected dissidents or partisans. This tactic was given the name Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog), to describe those who disappeared after being arrested by Nazi forces without any warning. The Nazis also applied this policy against political opponents within Germany. Most victims were killed on the spot, or sent to concentration camps, with the full expectation that they would then be killed.
Guatemala was one of the first countries where people were disappeared as a generalized practice of terror against a civilian population. Forced disappearance was widely practiced by the government of Guatemala during the 36-year Guatemalan Civil War. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 individuals were disappeared by the Guatemalan military and security forces between 1954 and 1996. The tactic of disappearance first saw widespread use in Guatemala during the mid-1960s, as government repression became widespread when the military adopted harsher counterinsurgency measures. The first documented case of forced disappearance by the government in Guatemala occurred in March 1966, when thirty PGT associates were kidnapped, tortured and killed by the security forces; their bodies were put in sacks and dumped at sea from helicopters. This was one of the first major instances of forced disappearance in Latin American history. When law students at the University of San Carlos used legal measures (such as habeas corpus petitions) to require the government to present the detainees at court, some of the students were "disappeared" in turn.
Ensaaf, a nonprofit organization working to end impunity and achieve justice for mass state crimes in India, with a focus on Punjab, released a pamphlet in January 2009, alongside "Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG)", claiming "verifiable quantitative" findings on mass disappearances and extrajudicial executions in the Indian state of Punjab. In conflict-afflicted states like Punjab, Indian security forces have perpetrated gross human rights violations with impunity. The report by Ensaaf and HRDAG, "Violent Deaths and Enforced Disappearances During the Counterinsurgency in Punjab, India", presents empirical findings suggesting that the intensification of counterinsurgency operations in Punjab in the 1980s to 1990s was accompanied by a shift in state violence from targeted lethal human rights violations to systematic enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions, accompanied by mass "illegal cremations". Furthermore, there is key evidence suggesting security forces tortured, executed, and disappeared tens of thousands of people in Punjab from 1984 to 1995.
This year alone, Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has recommended the identification of all those 2,156 people buried in unmarked graves in north Kashmir. The total number of missing peoples by Indian forces is not known, but it is a very high ratio.
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Following the Iran student riots in 1999, more than 70 students disappeared. In addition to an estimated 1,200–1,400 detained, the "whereabouts and condition" of five students named by Human Rights Watch remained unknown. The United Nations has also reported other disappearances. After each manifestation, from teacher unions to women's rights activists, at least some disappearances are expected. Dissident writers have been the target of disappearances, as have members of religious minorities such as the Baha'i Faith following the Iranian revolution. Examples include Muhammad Movahhed and Ali Murad Davudi.
According to National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH), between 2006 and 2011, 5,397 people have disappeared. Of these, 3,457 are men, 1,885 are women, but there is no information about the other 55 (source BBC). Usually the forced disappearances occur in groups and are on people not related to the drug war which was started by President Felipe Calderón in 2006. The main difference from the kidnappings, is that usually there is no ransom asked for the disappeared.
Morocco / Western Sahara
Several Moroccan Army personnel suspected of being implicated in the 1970s coups against the King were held in secret detention camps such as Tazmamart, some of them died due to poor conditions or lack of medical treatment. The most famous case of forced disappearance in Morocco is that of political dissident Mehdi Ben Barka, who disappeared in obscure circumstance in France in 1965. In February 2007, Morocco signed an international convention protecting people from forced disappearance, In October 2007, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón has declared the competence of the Spanish jurisdiction in the Spanish-Sahrawi disappearances between 1976 and 1987 in Western Sahara (mostly controlled by Morocco), and there have been charges brought against some Moroccan military heads, some of them currently in power as of 2010[update], like the head of Morocco's armed forces, general Housni Benlismane, charged for the detention and disappearance campaign of Smara in 1976. His substitute, judge Fernando Pablo Ruz, reopened the cause in November 2010.
In North Korea, forced disappearances of nationals are characterized by detention without contact or explanation to the families of the detained. Foreign citizens, many of whom are ethnic Koreans who were living in South Korea and Japan, have been disappeared after willfully travelling to North Korea or after being abducted abroad. 
In Pakistan, forced disappearances began to be alleged after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Many of the disappeared individuals were allegedly tied to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, while many others were tied to Baloch nationalist and Sindhi nationalist movements.
The disappeared is the name given to sixteen people believed or confirmed to have been abducted, killed and buried in unmarked graves by republican paramilitaries during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In 1999 the IRA admitted to killing nine of the sixteen, and gave information on the location of the bodies, but only three bodies were recovered on that occasion, one of which had already been exhumed and placed in a coffin. The best-known case was that of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of ten who had lost her husband a few months before she disappeared, and who the IRA claimed was an informer. The search for her remains was abandoned in 1999 but her body was discovered in 2003, a mile from where the IRA had indicated, by a family out on a walk. Since then four more victims have been found, one in 2008 and three in 2010. The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains, established in 1999, is the body responsible for locating the disappeared.
During the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, it is claimed that forced disappearances occurred. For example, during the strikes of 1977 and 1987 in Romania respectively, leading persons involved in the strikes are alleged to have been "disappeared".
The Russian government failed to pursue any accountability process for human rights abuses committed during the course of the conflict in Chechnya. Unable to secure justice domestically, hundreds of victims of abuse have filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In March 2005 the court issued the first rulings on Chechnya, finding the Russian government guilty of violating the right to life and the prohibition of torture with respect to civilians who had died or been forcibly disappeared at the hands of Russia's federal troops.
According to a United Nations 1999 study, Sri Lanka is the country that has the second highest number of disappeared people in the world (the first being Iraq). Since 1980, 12,000 Sri Lankans have gone missing after being detained by security forces. More than 55,000 people have been killed in the past 27 years. The figures are still lower than the current Sri Lankan government's own estimate of 17,000 people missing, which was made after it came to power with a commitment to correct the human rights issues.
On 29 May 2009, the British newspaper The Times acquired confidential U.N. documents that record nearly 7,000 civilian deaths in the no-fire zone up to the end of April. The toll then surged, the paper quoted unidentified U.N. sources as saying, with an average of 1,000 civilians killed each day until 19 May, when the government declared victory over the Tamil Tiger rebels. That means the final death toll is more than 20,000, The Times said. "Higher", a U.N. source told the paper. "Keep going." The United Nations has previously said 7,000 civilians were killed in fighting between January and May. A top Sri Lankan official called the 20,000 figure unfounded. Gordon Weiss, a U.N. spokesman in Sri Lanka, told CNN that a large number of civilians were killed, though he did not confirm the 20,000 figure.
In 2007, the Swiss government detained without charge an Egyptian refugee Mohamed El Ghanem. The family of Dr. El Ghanem, and Dr. El Ghanam himself claim that the detention was in retaliation for Dr. El Ghanem's filing charges against the Swiss Police for threatening him to become a spy-informant on the local Muslim community. Pending 2006, the Swiss government ran administrative and judicial procedures against Dr. El Ghanem in his absence, claiming he was mentally incompetent and dangerous, but refused him proper treatment. The Swiss government refused to tell his U.S.-based family where he was, or to admit his detention. In 2009, British journalist Robert Fisk noted that Dr. El Ghanem was "disappeared", in light of the fact that the Swiss government was refusing to acknowledge his whereabouts. In 2010, lawyers for Dr. El Ghanem presented the case to the UN Committee on Forced and Voluntary Disappearances. In 2013, the Swiss Federal Tribunal ruled that Dr. El Ghanem's detention was wrongful, and that his complaints (re: alleged spy-recruitment) had never been adequately addressed. As of November 2013, Dr. El Ghanem remained in the local Geneva prison, Champ-Dollon. His imminent release was expected.
Cases of forced disappearance in Syria started when late Syrian president Hafez al-Assad started to face opposition from citizens in the late 1970s. While he was able to buy elite merchants of Damascus through Badr el-Deen Shallah, the general public was outraged by Assad's policies in ruling the country and the rise of corruption. From then on, any voice opposing or questioning the Syrian government was silenced by forced disappearance or threats. According to Human Rights Watch, no fewer than 17,000 people disappeared during Assad's 30-year rule.
Bashar al-Assad took his father's policy further and considered any voice questioning anything about Syria's political, economical, social, or otherwise policies should be monitored and when needed, detained and accused of weakening national empathy. A recent case is Tal Mallohi, a 19-year-old blogger summoned for interrogation on 27 December 2009 and never went back home.
On 12 March 2004, Somchai Neelapaijit, a well-known Thai Muslim activist lawyer in the kingdom's southern region, was kidnapped by Thai police and has since disappeared. Officially listed as a disappeared person, his presumed widow, Mrs. Ankhana Neelapaichit, has been seeking justice for her husband since Somchai first went missing. On 11 March 2009, Mrs. Neelapaichit was part of a special panel at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand to commemorate her husband's disappearance and to keep attention focused on the case and on human rights abuses in Thailand.
In 2013 Bangkok Post said that "Angkhana Neelapaijit, wife of missing lawyer Somchai, said the government's policies against drug trafficking and the southern insurgency had contributed to incidents of enforced disappearance."
Turkish human rights groups accuse the Turkish security forces of being responsible for the disappearance of more than 1,500 civilians of the Kurdish minority in the 1980s and 1990s, in attempts to root out the PKK. Each year Yakar-Der, the Turkish Human Rights Association (I˙HD) and the International Committee Against Disappearances (ICAD), organise a series of events in Turkey to mark the "Week of Disappeared People".
In April 2009, state prosecutors in Turkey ordered the excavation of several sites around Turkey believed to hold Kurdish victims of state death squads from the 1980s and 1990s, in response to calls for Turkey's security establishment to come clean about past abuses. [dead link]
- Argentine Dirty War
- Black sites
- Black jails (China)
- Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas
- Command responsibility
- Damnatio memoriae
- Extraordinary rendition
- Ghost detainee
- International Day of the Disappeared
- Missing person
- Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an Argentine activist group formed by mothers of desaparecidos
- North Korean abductions of Japanese
- Nacht und Nebel
- Police encounter
- Secret police
- Arbitrary arrest and detention
- Selective assassination
- Unexplained disappearances
- List of people who disappeared mysteriously
- Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
- International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
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|Look up disappearance in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Amnesty International: Day of the Disappeared
- International Committee Against Disappearances
- Familylinks.icrc.org Website for people looking for family members missing due to a conflict or natural disaster. International Committee of the Red Cross.
- UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
- Video Reports from Argentina: The trials of those who carried out disappearances
- Human Rights First; Behind the Wire: An Update to Ending Secret Detentions (2005)
- Kidnapped and Raised by a Argentine Military Family, a "Recovered Grandchild" Finds His Way Home – video report by Democracy Now!