Enforced disappearance: justice must be guaranteed without delay to all victims, say the IACHR, experts of the UN, of the ACHPR and of the ASEAN

August 30, 2023

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GENEVA, Washington D.C. – Ahead of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, the Chairperson of the Working Group on Death Penalty, Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Representatives of Indonesia and Malaysia to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights* urged all States to provide effective access to justice for victims of enforced disappearance, that include any individual who has suffered harm as the direct result of an enforced disappearance.

"As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we invite all States to reinvigorate access to justice at the national level and to finance and support Sustainable Development Goal 16 globally – the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies. In this context, it is key to recall that the inextricable link between justice and truth is critical in cases of enforced disappearance.

The right of victims to access justice entails taking all the necessary steps to seek out the truth. When a person disappears and then is located, justice requires the thorough investigation of the enforced disappearance, and its circumstances, as well as the identification, prosecution, and sanction of the perpetrators. When the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons are unknown, justice also encompasses an obligation to search for them immediately.

Ensuring adequate access to justice and, as a result, proper accountability for perpetrators at all levels of responsibility in the chain of command, is indispensable to convey that enforced disappearances are not permitted or tolerated. It also serves both as a preventive measure and as a guarantee of non-repetition, and is closely intertwined with reparation, emphasized the experts. Access to justice must not be merely theoretical, but guaranteed in practice through concrete measures that promote and fully value the genuine and meaningful participation of victims and their representatives throughout the process.

States must guarantee the launch of the search and investigation without delay, as soon as authorities are informed of an alleged enforced disappearance, even in the absence of an official complaint. To have any chance of locating disappeared persons alive, time is of the essence. In the very few cases where justice is achieved, this too often occurs years after the enforced disappearance began, when some relatives have already passed away, after a life of anguish. ‘Justice delayed is justice denied', even more so in the case of enforced disappearances.

Likewise, access to justice must include both efforts to determine the truth and hold those responsible for the enforced disappearance accountable, as well as addressing the harm suffered by the victims. We urge States to guarantee victims' effective access to justice and ensure that their right to redress is adequately upheld.

Many relatives experience diverse and intersecting vulnerabilities which are intensified by the disappearance of their loved one, making it harder to claim their rights. Given that in cases of enforced disappearance most of those left behind are women, it is particularly important to incorporate a gender perspective into any measure aimed at providing search, truth, justice, reparation and redress to victims.

Regarding the obstacles experienced by different actors, often victims face threats, intimidation, reprisals and stigmatisation in their struggle for truth and justice. The same applies to organizations and lawyers acting on their behalf. This must end, and victims must be given access to free legal aid to ensure that one's finances are not a barrier to accessing justice. Given that in many cases enforced disappearance may be a transnational crime, cooperation and mutual legal assistance between States must be strengthened and systematized, as are measures to assist victims in ensuring their access to justice in other States.

We renew our solidarity with victims of enforced disappearances, organisations that support them, human rights defenders and lawyers who, despite the often hostile and dangerous environment in which they operate, continue their struggle for truth, justice, memory and non-repetition. We call on all States to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to make pledges to promote justice without delay for all victims of enforced disappearances. Particularly, we call on States that have not yet done so to ratify the international and regional instruments on enforced disappearances."

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 202/23

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