Press Release

Forced Disappearances: Significant Progress and Major Challenges in the Region

August 28, 2015

   Contact info

Ariel Dulitzky
President of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

IACHR Press and Communication Director
Tel: +1 (202) 370-9001

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. - On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances recognize the progress made on this issue in many countries in the region. However, they call attention to the debt owed to the victims of forced disappearances of the past in terms of realizing their rights to truth, justice, and reparation. Moreover, the IACHR and the Working Group express their profound concern over the fact that the phenomenon of forced disappearances continues in the region and over the lack of due diligence by the States to prevent, investigate, and punish these acts.

Looking back over the forced disappearances of decades past, the President of the IACHR, Commissioner Rose-Marie Antoine, stated, “Forced disappearances have always been associated with the Americas. Many authoritarian governments in the region have used this method of terror, and the enormous debt we owe to the victims and their families remains unpaid. Although major progress has been made in investigations and in the prosecution and punishment of those responsible for these serious human rights violations that took place under military dictatorships and authoritarian governments, there are still too many cases that remain unpunished. The years and decades go by, and mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and wives and husbands continue to search for the remains of their loved ones and continue to cry for justice.”

For his part, the President of the UN Working Group, Ariel Dulitzky, said, “Since 1980, many countries in the region have encouraged the progressive development of international law to combat forced disappearances. The region was at the forefront of the debates that led to the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, in 1992, the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, in 1994, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, approved by the United Nations in 2006.” Dulitzky added, “We urge all the countries in the region that have not yet done so to ratify the two conventions.”

The IACHR and the Working Group urge States to adopt, in a timely manner, legislation, public policy, and other measures that enable progress in combating impunity for these grave crimes. Among the measures to improve the search for truth, it is necessary to expand the use of breakthroughs and experience in forensics and DNA tests; properly use the technological and scientific advancements now available; immediately open all archives, including military archives; and provide family members complete and immediate access to the national, regional, and international mechanisms that are designed to establish the truth about the disappearances.

In addition, the IACHR and the UN Working Group express their deep concern over the fact that the serious crime of forced disappearances has continued in the era of democratic governments in the region, as well as over the metamorphosis of the phenomenon. While forced disappearances used to be part of “national security” strategies employed against so-called subversive or terrorist groups in the context of serious and massive human rights violations, currently these serious crimes are taking place in other contexts. Organized crime groups such as drug cartels and human trafficking organizations are using disappearances, in some cases in collaboration with State agents, which constitutes forced disappearance.

“States have made significant legislative progress in including forced disappearance as a separate crime in their criminal codes, and there are key efforts underway to bring those responsible to justice. However, in terms of preventing the occurrence of forced disappearance in these new contexts, progress has been limited,” said Bernard Duhaime, a member of the UN Working Group.

Forced disappearance is a complex type of human rights violation, and its conceptualization and ensuing obligations have been broadly defined over the last three decades, thanks to the contributions of, among others, the UN Working Group and the Inter-American Commission. The continuous nature of the crime of disappearance, the right to know the truth, the right to reparations, and the right to justice, along with the incompatibility of amnesty laws and statutes of limitation in cases involving forced disappearances, are all issues that have been well developed in international and inter-American case law.

The UN Working Group and the IACHR today underscore the need for States to organize their governmental structures and employ all means at their disposal to prevent, investigate, punish, and remedy every forced disappearance with due diligence and without delay. It is also important for States to adopt measures to effectively protect individuals, groups, and communities at particular risk of disappearance, including children, women, migrants, human rights defenders, and journalists, among others. Finally, the IACHR and the Working Group emphasize the urgency of implementing measures designed to respect and guarantee access to information for the family members as a right that facilitates truth, justice, and reparation in the context of forced disappearances.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 098/15