Saturday, 23 January 2021

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Every minute counts

1 Enforced disappearances
Photo: UN

30.08.2016 – They come at any time of the day or night, usually in plain clothes, sometimes in uniform, always carrying weapons. Giving no reasons, producing no arrest warrant, frequently without saying who they are or on whose authority they are acting, they drag off one or more members of a family towrads a car, using violence in the process if necessary. If this sounds like an Orwellian nightmare, it is also reality for thousands of individuals. 30 August marks the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

2 ED nforced disppearances
Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla has been missing since 8 August 2014. He was last seen on CCTV at the Maldivian Hulhumalé ferry terminal. Photo: FlickR/DyingRegime

Enforced disappearance has frequently been used as a strategy to spread terror within the society.

The victims are frequently tortured, well aware that their families do not know what has become of them, while in constant fear for their lives. Is it more difficult to maintain optimism of rescue or give up hope? Physical and psychological scars of this form of dehumanization remain, if death is not the final outcome.

Enforced disappearances cause societal insecurity. Sometimes children disappear, others lose their parents. The victim’s kin are subject to mental anguish, not knowing the state of their loved one nor whether they will return, which makes it difficult to adapt. This is compounded by material consequences of the disappearance. Often it is the main breadwinner who has been taken, so the family struggle to sustain themselves (national legislation can make it impossible to draw a pension or receive other means of support in the absence of a death certificate) let alone fund a rescue. Communities are directly affected by the disappearance of breadwinners, and the degradation of the families' economic situation and social marginalisation.

3 ED nforced disappearances
Solo, Indonesia. 2007; Mr and Mrs Fatah, parents of Leonardus Gilang Nugroho who disappeared. Photo: FlickR/Henri Ismail

The serious economic hardships which usually accompany a disappearance are most often borne by women, and it is women who are most often at the forefront of the struggle to resolve the disappearance of family members. In this capacity they may suffer intimidation, persecution and reprisals. When women are themselves direct victims of disappearance, they become particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.

Enforced disappearance is not restricted to a specific region of the world. It continues to be used by some States. Acts tantamount to enforced disappearance are carried out by non-state actors including armed extremist and terrorist groups.Please click here to see rights that enforced disappearances regularly violate.

The use of enforced disappearance is totally illegal under any circumstances, including war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, according to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This and theRome Statute of the International Criminal Court state that, 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. It gives victims' families the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.

Speaking ahead of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and WGEID expressed their concern at allegations of intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearances and those who report their cases:

There is no time limit, no matter how short, for an enforced disappearance to occur. Every minute counts when a person is put outside the protection of the law. And when a person is disappeared, every anguished minute spent by his or her relatives without news of that person is a minute too long.

4 Enforced disappearances
Photo: UN

Of the international mechanisms set up to help, the two United Nations mechanisms on enforced disappearance are the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID). They receive requests to take urgent action from but a tiny proportion of those affected.

Country visits provide the WGEID with a firsthand account of the situation concerning enforced disappearances, including institutional and legislative factors that contribute to such practices. Visits are undertaken only at the invitation of a Government. However, the WGEID may solicit an invitation.During visits, members of the WGEID meet with Government authorities, NGOs, representatives of the legal profession and relatives of disappeared persons.

Countries where visits have been completed include Croatia, Montenegro, Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey. Many states have yet to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and introduce an autonomous crime of enforced disappearance in domestic criminal law. Much is yet to be done to solve enforced disappearance.

5 Enforced disappearances
Image: UN, for more detail please see

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