Press Release

On the International Day of the Disappeared, the IACHR Urges States to Step Up Their Efforts to Search for Missing Victims

September 1, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - In the context of the International Day of the Disappeared, August 30, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urges States to take all necessary measures to prevent and investigate disappearances, to establish the fate or whereabouts of missing victims and, if applicable, to hand over their duly identified remains to their families as soon as possible. The IACHR calls on States in the Americas to strengthen organizations and mechanisms charged with searching for missing persons, locating them, identifying any human remains, and handing them over to the relevant families. States must grant these organizations and mechanisms the human, financial, logistical, scientific, and any other resources they need to do their work in coordination with victims’ families.

Forced disappearances have been common in the Americas both in internal armed conflicts and dictatorships and in democracies. The IACHR acknowledges progress made by various States in recent years regarding measures and regulations to prevent forced disappearances, and also to develop institutions, procedures, and methodologies to end families’ uncertainty about their loved ones’ whereabouts. In some cases, these measures have delivered positive results, including the dignified handover of victim remains to their families.

The Commission has also continued to receive reports on the challenges faced by State institutions who are active in the search for missing persons and victims of forced disappearance. These challenges include difficulties to implement clear, well-coordinated State strategies to search for these individuals and to locate them through interinstitutional cooperation. Further challenges persist—including problems to keep adequate, accurate, up-to-date, reliable records of missing persons and of unidentified bodies and bone remains—that preclude more effective search efforts. These institutions and mechanisms also face shortcomings in terms of legal, financial, logistical, human, and technical-scientific resources. The IACHR stresses the need to provide psychosocial support for families all through the search for their missing relatives.

Inter-American jurisprudence has affirmed the obligation to conduct thorough, effective searches for victims of forced disappearance, with due diligence. The Commission has also closely monitored the change in regulations concerning the obligation to search for missing persons in the Americas and is pleased to observe a trend toward its recognition as an autonomous obligation beyond criminal investigations. Based on this obligation, authorities in charge of investigating disappearances must devote all necessary resources to promptly conduct any actions and investigations required to establish victims’ fate and identify the people responsible for their forced disappearance. To do this, States must grant the relevant authorities the logistical and scientific means they need to gather and process evidence and the capacity to access the documents and information needed to investigate the allegations and obtain evidence of victims’ whereabouts.

The IACHR has noted the duty to do that while also communicating with victims’ families and agreeing with them on any required actions, to ensure their participation, awareness, and presence. The Commission also stresses the importance of handing over victim remains to their families in a dignified way, after reliably establishing the victim’s identity, as promptly as possible and free of charge. The IACHR has found that, in cases of forced disappearance, the State must further pay for funeral costs (if necessary) in agreement with the victim’s family.

The IACHR calls on States to take any action necessary to locate and identify victims of disappearances. The Commission encourages States to strengthen the relevant institutions and administrative and legal mechanisms, so they can systematically and rigorously conduct the necessary investigations with adequate human and technical resources. In particular, the IACHR notes the efforts made by the offices in charge of searching for missing persons in Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, and Peru.

Finally, the IACHR calls on States in the Americas that have not yet done so to ratify the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons.

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 and to defend 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. 208/20