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DISAPPEARANCES AND SUMMARY EXECUTIONS
Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
In the present report, the Working Group expresses serious concern regarding situations of disappearance worldwide. It notes with great concern the large number of reports of disappearances transmitted over the last year. During the period under review, the Working Group transmitted to Governments in 22 countries 535 newly reported cases of disappearances. During the same period, the Working Group clarified 1,309 cases in 17 countries, a considerable increase over previous years. This is due in large measure to an enhanced capacity of the Secretariat to address a backlog of unprocessed cases, in particular from Sri Lanka.
During the reporting period, the Working Group conducted a country visit to Colombia. The report of the country visit to Colombia is an addendum to this report. It contains an overview of the constitutional and legal framework on disappearances, including developments since the last visit of the Working Group in 1988. It highlights the gap between a sophisticated legal system and the poor concrete results of legal mechanisms designed to address the crime of disappearance. The Working Group makes general and specific recommendations to halt the continuing pattern of disappearances in the country, to protect the families of victims and non-governmental organizations working to discover the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons, to address the problem of underreporting of cases of disappearance, to align domestic legislation with the States’ obligation under the Declaration on the Protection of the Rights of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and to more effectively implement the existing legal mechanisms on disappearances in Colombia.
The Working Group is still particularly concerned about reports it has received of the disappearance of children and, in a few cases, of physically and mentally challenged persons. The Working Group recalls the obligation of States to protect all groups in situations of vulnerability. It will continue to monitor this issue closely, and treat all such cases as a matter of urgency.
The protection of all human rights defenders, families seeking their disappeared relatives, witnesses and legal counsel is also a constant preoccupation of the Working Group. States are reminded of their obligation under article 13, paragraph 3, of the Declaration to protect against “ill-treatment, intimidation or reprisal” all persons involved in the investigation of disappearances.
The Working Group again stresses its grave concern that anti-terrorist activities are being used by an increasing number of States as an excuse for not respecting the obligations of the Declaration. Credible reports point to the repression of opposition groups in many States in the name of a “war on terror”. In addition “extraordinary rendition” has been used to transport terrorist suspects to other States for aggressive interrogation. Information continues to reach the Working Group concerning the existence of secret detention centres where terrorist suspects are held in complete isolation from the outside world. In all three situations, people disappear. As is well documented, disappearance is often a precursor to torture and even to extrajudicial execution.
The Working Group notes that in some post-conflict situations, mechanisms of truth and reconciliation are being used as one of the ways of moving the affected societies from war to peace and from conflict to post-conflict government. The Working Group expresses its concern that such circumstances can give rise to the enactment of amnesty laws and the implementation of other measures that lead to the same result: impunity. As a response to this concern, during the seventy-seventh session of the Working Group, it adopted a general comment on article 18 of the Declaration in an effort to contribute to the progressive development of international law on this sensitive matter.
300. No communication has ever been received by the Working Group from the Government of Israel regarding outstanding cases.
Information received from sources
301. During the period under review no information was received from sources regarding outstanding cases.
Summary of the situation prior to the period under review
302. Of the three cases transmitted by the Working Group, one occurred in 1992 in Jerusalem and concerned a person who failed to return home from work and who is allegedly detained in a prison in Tel Aviv. Another case concerns a Palestinian who was reportedly arrested in 1971 on the day a bomb exploded in Gaza, and was last seen in a detention camp. The third case concerns a Palestinian from the occupied West Bank who was allegedly detained in Hebron in 1991 by Israeli security forces. In all three cases, Israeli military or security forces were said to be responsible. During the period under review, in accordance with its methods of work, a case that was transmitted to the Palestinian Authority was copied to the Government of Israel. The case concerns a United States citizen of Palestinian descent who disappeared near the Israeli settlement of Ofrah and who was allegedly abducted by the Israeli Defence Forces. (See also section on Palestine, paragraph 408.)
Total cases transmitted, clarified and outstanding
303. In the past and during the year under review, the Working Group has transmitted three cases to the Government; of those, one case has been clarified on the basis of information provided by the source, and two cases remain outstanding.
322. During the period under review, the Government transmitted a reply in relation to all 313 outstanding cases, stating that no abducted persons were members of a political party or an organization that was active in Lebanon until 1990. The substance of the reply was similar to the one provided in 2004.
323. During the period under review no information was received from sources regarding outstanding cases.
324. Information was submitted by NGOs to the Working Group concerning alleged non-compliance by the Government of Lebanon with provisions of the Declaration (see paragraph 13).
325. Reports express concern about the alleged failure of the Lebanese authorities, including actors in the justice system, security agencies and commissions of inquiry, to address the problem of victims of disappearance. Reports urge the Government of Lebanon to cooperate with the Syrian authorities as well as with the international community with a view to resolving the issue of disappearances.
326. In response to the general allegation, the Government of Lebanon provided information about the recent developments regarding the question of Lebanese detainees and disappeared persons in Syria. In particular, information was received concerning the newly established Joint Lebanon-Syria Committee which is mandated to examine this issue. They stated that at the conclusion of the work of the Joint Committee, a final report would be submitted to the Lebanese Council of Ministers.
327. The majority of the 319 cases reported in the past occurred between 1982 and 1985 in the context of the Lebanese civil war. The forces allegedly responsible were described as members of the Phalangist militia, the Lebanese army or its security forces. In some cases, the Israeli army was reported to have been involved, acting together with one or other of these forces. A number of cases concerned persons who were reportedly arrested at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in September 1982. Some of the cases involved foreign nationals allegedly abducted in Beirut in 1984, 1985 and 1987. A few cases concerned persons who were allegedly arrested between 1976 and 2000 by the Syrian army, the Syrian Intelligence Service or security services at checkpoints, or abducted by the Hezbollah and transferred to the Syrian Arab Republic. In accordance with its methods of work, the Working Group sent copies of these cases to the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic.
328. In the past and during the year under review, the Working Group has transmitted 319 cases to the Government; of those, 6 cases have been clarified on the basis of information provided by the source, 2 cases have been clarified on the basis of information provided by the Government and 311 cases remain outstanding.
329. The Working Group is concerned about the lack of relevant information in the response from the Government, which was the same for all 313 cases. It encourages the Government to make all possible efforts in order to determine the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared persons.
330. The Working Group welcomes the creation of the Joint Lebanon-Syria Committee, which addresses disappearances. The Working Group requests that any new information received by the Government concerning the outstanding cases be sent to the Working Group as soon as possible.
406. No communication has ever been received by the Working Group from the Palestinian Authority regarding outstanding cases.
Information received from the sources
407. During the period under review no information was received from sources regarding outstanding cases.
408. Of the three reported cases of disappearance, two reportedly occurred in 1997. One concerned a person who was allegedly taken away from his sister’s home in Deir-al-Balah by persons who had identified themselves as military intelligence officers; the other concerned a real estate agent, the father of five children, who allegedly disappeared after his arrest by members of the Palestinian military intelligence in Ramallah. A case which reportedly occurred in 2001 concerned a United States citizen of Palestinian descent who allegedly disappeared near the Israeli settlement of Ofrah: eyewitness accounts and a blue tape found on his car, abandoned near the settlement, reportedly indicated that it had been searched for explosives by the Israeli Defence Forces. In accordance with the methods of work of the Working Group, a copy of the case was also sent to the Government of Israel and to the Government of the United States of America.
409. In the past and during the year under review, the Working Group has transmitted three cases to the Palestinian Authority; all of them remain outstanding.
594. The Working Group is particularly troubled about reports of disappearances linked to the “war on terror”. The Working Group has noted a strong trend since 2001 whereby many States explain disappearances with reference to “terrorists”. In some countries, authorities use the need to combat terror as a justification for repression against opposition groups. This sometimes results in disappearances. In addition, the reported use of “extraordinary rendition” - the sending of detainees to other countries for aggressive interrogation - and the alleged existence of secret detention centres in a number of countries is a cause of great concern to the Working Group. In the experience of the Working Group, secret detention creates situations inviting further abuse, including disappearance. The Working Group reminds all Governments that under article 7 of the Declaration, “No circumstances whatsoever, whether a threat of war, a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances”. This includes any type of counter-terrorist campaign. The Working Group urges all Governments to comply with their obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular under the Declaration, and to make available to families all information on the fate and whereabouts of any person who is arrested and detained, for whatever reason.
595. The Working Group calls upon Governments to comply with their obligations under article 10 of the Declaration. Any person deprived of liberty shall be held in an officially recognized place of detention (art. 10, para. 1), accurate information on the detention and transfer of such persons should be made promptly available to their family and counsel (art. 10, para. 2), and an official up-to-date register of detainees must be available in every place of detention (art. 10, para. 3).
596. In several cases considered by the Working Group, it was noted that persons have reportedly been arrested in one country and handed over by the authorities to another country and subsequently disappeared. The Working Group wishes to remind all Governments of their obligations under article 8 of the Declaration. This article clearly affirms that no State shall expel, return (refouler) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he/she would be in danger of enforced disappearance (art. 8, para. 1).