Posts Tagged ‘International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances’

Portraits of disappeared defenders paraded in Bangkok

September 14, 2022

This article – originally published by Prachatai, an independent news site in Thailand – was republished by Global Voices on 5 September 2022

To mark International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, a dozen people affiliated with the Mok Luang Rim Nam student activist group gathered at Ratchaprasong Intersection in downtown Bangkok. A small parade was held by activists in Siam Square to raise awareness about forced disappearances. The marchers carried portraits of abducted activists, some of whom were later found dead.

The group carried photos of Porlajee Rakchongcharoen, Surachai Danwattananusorn, Wanchalearm Satsaksit, and Siam Theerawut — Thai victims of forced disappearance. Hanging photos of the victims around their necks, some covered their heads with plastic bags in imitation of a suffocation torture technique.

Porlajee Rakchongcharoen is a Karen environmental activist last seen in April 2014 in the custody of Kaeng Krachan National Park officials in Phetchaburi province. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/08/22/karen-activist-porlajee-billy-rakchongcharoens-murder-finally-an-indictment/]

Surachai Danwattananusorn, a veteran activist who fled the country after the 2014 coup, disappeared in December 2018 in a neighboring country, and his dead body was later found at the Thai-Laos border. Siam Theerawut also fled in 2014 and was arrested by Vietnamese authorities in 2019 before his reported extradition to Thailand. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Speaking on the occasion, activist Tanruthai Thaenrut said that the group wanted to raise awareness about forced disappearances, to tell people that the government is ignoring these disappearances and silencing the people to make disappearance seem normal.

A 2020 report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances estimates there are at least 75 victims of enforced disappearance in Thailand .

Uniformed police were seen standing guard at the National Police Headquarters on the way to Siam Square. Plainclothes police were reportedly taking photographs of event participants before the event started. When they reached their destination, the Superintendent of Pathumwan police station arrived with other police officers, to quietly monitor the situation.

During the gathering, activists staged a performance symbolizing an abduction. One of the participants placed a black bag over Tanruthai’s head while she was giving a speech. Two others then carried her away while other activists shouted, “Free our friends.”

Mint, a Thai traditional dancer-turned-activist who participated in the march, said that the performance signified that anyone could become a victim of forced disappearance. She noted that human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit was abducted in the middle of Bangkok, and added that the fates of most people who disappeared remain unknown

Enforced disappearances in China

August 31, 2022

On 30 August, 2022, the International Day of the Disappeared, the international community must recognize and respond to the widespread use of enforced disappearances in the People’s Republic of China, say an impressive group of NGOs (see list a the end):  

Just over five years ago, on 13 August 2017, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng vanished for the third time. Gao, praised as the ‘Conscience of China’, had long fought for the rights of those who dared to speak out, who belonged to religious minorities, who were evicted from their homes when their land was seized, or who protested against exploitation. For that, he was in and out of prison and separated from his family for nearly a decade. For more than five years, his wife and children have had no idea of his whereabouts, nor even if he is alive. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/33C77656-F58B-454E-B4C7-E1775C954F14]

Gao Zhisheng’s case is severe, and yet represents only the tip of the iceberg: many other activists and lawyers face a similar fate, such as Tang Jitian, disappeared in 2021, tortured, and detained in a secret location. UN experts, including the Working Group on enforced disappearance, have sounded the alarm from as early as 2011 about the use of enforced disappearances against those taking part in China’s human rights movement. It is used to silence those promoting rights and freedoms, to enable acts of torture and ill-treatment without any oversight, and to send a chilling message to any person who may dare to criticize the government. 

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed this when he reminded the international community that enforced disappearance is a ‘method of repression, terror, and stifling dissent’. Relatives – themselves also victims of this crime– are deprived of their right to justice, and to know the truth, constituting a form of cruel and inhumane treatment for the immediate family. 

But no matter how powerful a country is, no matter what security challenges (real or perceived) they may face, the experts rightfully emphasize: ‘There can never be an excuse to disappear people.’ Enforced disappearances are strictly prohibited under international law under any circumstances, and may constitute a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population. 

The Chinese government continues to ignore calls for it to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. It has disregarded requests for over nine years by the UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to visit the country, including its most recent on 7 January 2022. In the meantime, the number of cases of individuals disappeared presented before the Working Group soared, reaching 214 by 2021, out of which 98 remain outstanding. 

It is urgent that the UN, governments, and civil society worldwide press China to end, unequivocally, all forms of enforced disappearance. 

UN experts and civil society actors have documented many practices used by the Chinese authorities amounting to enforced disappearance. Some are written into Chinese law, or Chinese Communist Party guidance; others happen outside the scope of China’s own laws.  Some target individuals for their actions or speech; others are wielded with the intent to terrorize a particular ethnic or religious community. 

Residential Surveillance at a Designated Locations (RSDL)

‘Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location’  is allowed for in China’s Criminal Procedure Law, and authorizes holding someone in custody – prior to arrest – for up to six months in an undisclosed location. This ‘location’ is unofficial, selected at the discretion of the police, and the individual is isolated in solitary confinement without access to family, counsel or options to appeal the measure. This is especially true for those activists and dissidents accused of ‘national security crimes’. Incomplete government data admits to use of RSDL in some 23,700 instances, but civil society estimates that for the period 2013 to 2021, the real figure is closer to 85,000, with increased use over time. The practice continues despite having been condemned by UN experts as ‘a form of enforced disappearance’ that ‘may per se amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or even torture.’ The experts’ assessment is clear: RSDL must be repealed. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/05/chinas-residential-surveillance-at-a-designated-location-needs-to-disappear/]

Liuzhi system 

The liuzhi (留置) extralegal detention system mimics the practice of RSDL, but is used to specifically punish any public servant or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member who allegedly ‘violates duties’ or commits ‘economic crimes,’ potentially reaching nearly 300 million victims.  As with RSDL, liuzhi detentions can last up to six months, holding victims incommunicado and in solitary confinement at undisclosed locations. Yet, detentions are outside the scope of China’s laws, including the Criminal Procedure Law, as liuzhi is not part of the criminal justice system. Instead, it is run by China’s powerful extra-judicial anti-graft watchdog, the National Supervision Commission (NSC), a quasi-state body answerable only to the CCP. Legal safeguards, including the right to legal counsel, do not apply to individuals investigated under liuzhi, until and unless their case is sent for criminal prosecution. Incomplete official data acknowledges 11,000 individuals held under liuzhicivil society estimates actual figures to surpass 57,000 disappeared victims. UN experts addressed a general allegation on this issue to China in September 2019.

Psychiatric incarceration (ankang)

Since the 1980s, China’s Ministry of Public Security has locked up individuals targeted for their political and religious beliefs in psychiatric hospitals for the criminally insane, known as ankang (安康) (‘peace and health’). Despite legal reforms, police continue to send human rights defenders for compulsory treatment without medical justification in both ankang facilities, and psychiatric hospitals for the general public. Civil society data indicates this is a regular, large-scale practice, where victims are denied contact with the outside world and often subjected to torture and ill-treatment, while families are not informed about their relatives’ forced hospitalization.

Enforced disappearance in Tibet

The Chinese authorities continue to disappear Tibetans, including religious leaders, critics and influential thinkers, subjecting them to torture and ill-treatment, and employing the threat of disappearance to instill widespread fear across Tibet.  In February 2022, six UN experts raised concern over the physical well-being of Tibetan musician Lhundrup Drakpa, writer Lobsang Lhundrub, and school teacher Rinchen Kyi, arrested and disappeared ‘in connection with their cultural activities in favour of the Tibetan minority language and culture.’ In July 2021, four UN experts expressed similar concern over the enforced disappearance of Rinchen Tsultrim and Go Sherab Gyatso, pointing to a ‘worrying pattern of arbitrary and incommunicado detentions (…) against the Tibetan religious minority, some of them amounting to enforced disappearances.’ 

The 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist leaders, was disappeared in 1995 at the age of six. The Chinese government continues to ignore calls for his release, UN experts’ concerns, or the UN child rights committee’s request for access to establish his whereabouts and health.

Enforced disappearance in the Uyghur region 

Beginning in 2017 in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR, or Uyghur Region), Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims have been detained incommunicado by Chinese government officials in internment camps, forced labor facilities, official prisons where they serve lengthy sentences, and other facilities where they are at risk of being subject to forced labor. Reports to the UN Working Group on enforced disappearances escalated dramatically, indicating a widespread and systematic practice. While the Chinese government refers to these camps as ‘vocational education and training centers’, administrative detention in the camps has no basis in Chinese, or international law. 

Journalists and NGOs have reported countless testimonies of people whose family members are or were missing and believed to be detained in the XUAR, and yet who have no way to establish their family members’ whereabouts.  They almost never receive official confirmation regarding their family member’s status from the Chinese authorities; efforts to gather information from Chinese consulates or embassies abroad have been largely unsuccessful. Very few detainees are allowed contact with the outside world. Even nominally ‘free’ Uyghurs living in XUAR have been effectively forbidden to speak with their family or friends abroad. Uyghurs in the country and overseas are wholly deprived of their right to truth. 

We, the undersigned organizations, urge the international community as a whole to ensure sustained attention and take meaningful action to put an end to all forms of enforced disappearance in China. The authorities must release all those disappeared, ensure their relatives’ right to truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-recurrence. 

We stand in solidarity with all those missing, and with their loved ones, left longing for them to return alive. 

Signatories

            Amnesty International

            China Against the Death Penalty

            China Aid Association

            Chinese Human Rights Defenders

            Freedom House

            Front Line Defenders

            Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

            Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete Portugal

            Hong Kong Democracy Council

            Hongkongers in Britain

            Hong Kong Watch

            International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) 

International Campaign for Tibet

            International Commission of Jurists

            International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

            International Society for Human Rights

            International Tibet Network

            Lawyers for Lawyers

            Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

Northern California Hong Kong Club

            Objectif Tibet, Sciez, France

            PEN America

Safeguard Defenders

The Rights Practice

The 29 Principles

Tibet Initiative Deutschland

Tibet Justice Center

Tibet Support Group Ireland

Students for a Free Tibet

Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association

Uyghur Human Rights Project

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

World Uyghur Congress

Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh have to stop

August 30, 2022

On 29 August 2022, on the occasion of the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, AFAD, FIDH, Maayer Daak and Odhikar urge the government of Bangladesh to:
1) Halt all enforced disappearances and immediately return all disappeared persons to their
families.
2) Set up an independent mechanism to investigate all cases of enforced disappearances.
3) Refrain from all forms of reprisals against human rights defenders, family members of the
disappeared, and civil society activists, and ensure the safety and security of victims and
their families.
4) Hold all perpetrators accountable.
5) Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced
Disappearance.
6) Adopt and implement domestic legislation criminalizing enforced disappearance in line
with international law.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/17/un-experts-urge-bangladesh-to-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders/

The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) is a federation of human rights
organizations working directly on the issue of involuntary disappearances in Asia. AFAD was founded
on 4 June 1998 in Manila, Philippines and was the recipient of the 2016 Asia Democracy and Human
Rights Award. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/5E526725-F43B-83FB-3B7E-2B3C56D01F60
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is the world’s oldest non-governmental
human rights organization. Founded in 1922, FIDH federates 192 member organizations from 117
countries. Its core mandate is to promote respect for all the rights set out in the UDHR. http://www.fidh.org
Maayer Daak is a platform of the families of victims of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh with
the common goal of seeking the whereabouts of their loved ones and advocating for justice.
Odhikar is a human rights organisation in Bangladesh, established on October 10, 1994 by a group of
human rights defenders, to monitor human rights violations and create wider awareness. It holds
special consultative status with the ECOSOC of the United Nations.

http://odhikar.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Joint-Statement-IDD-AFAD-FIDH-Maayer-Daak-Odhikar.pdf

Today is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, also in Nepal 

August 30, 2021

Enforced disappearance refers to the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by agents of the State, or those acting with State authorization or support, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Once largely the product of military dictatorships, it has become a global problem, according to the UN, with hundreds of thousands of people “disappeared” in more than 80 countries. Impunity remains widespread.

While strictly prohibited under international human rights law, the SG, Mr. Guterres said enforced disappearance continues to be used across the world as a method of repression, terror, and stifling dissent.

Paradoxically, it is sometimes used under the pretext of countering crime or terrorism. Lawyers, witnesses, political opposition, and human rights defenders are particularly at risk,” he added. 

Having been removed from the protection of the law, victims, who can include children, are deprived of all their rights and are at the mercy of their captors. 

They are frequently tortured and know that it is unlikely anyone will come to their aid.  Some are even killed. 

Enforced disappearance deprives families and communities of the right to know the truth about their loved ones, of accountability, justice and reparation,” the Secretary-General said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the agony and anguish of enforced disappearance, by limiting capacities to search for missing persons and investigate alleged enforced disappearance.”

It was established by the UN General Assembly, which adopted a resolution in December 2010 expressing deep concern about the rise in incidents in various regions, and increasing reports of harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances, or relatives of people who were disappeared.

The resolution also welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which calls for countries to take measures to hold perpetrators criminally responsible.

“The Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances is indispensable in helping to tackle this cowardly practice. But it requires the will and commitment of those with the power to do so,” the Secretary-General said. “States must fulfil their obligations to prevent enforced disappearance, to search for the victims, and to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators.”

Mr. Guterres reiterated his call for countries to ratify the Convention, and to work with the UN Committee that monitors its implementation, as well as the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, which assists families in determining the fate of their loved ones.

On this day Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a statement that the government of Nepal should promptly enforce Supreme Court rulings and permit the regular courts to try cases of enforced disappearance and other grave international crimes. On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, August 30, 2021, thousands of Nepali families are no closer to knowing the truth of what happened to their missing loved ones than they were when the country’s armed conflict ended 15 years ago.

Nepal’s Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered the government to investigate gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law during the conflict from 1996 to 2006, and to conduct a meaningful, effective transitional justice process to establish the truth and provide justice for thousands of cases of serious abuses.

The Nepali government stands in blatant violation of express orders of the Supreme Court by failing to conduct a credible, timely transitional justice process,” said Mandira Sharma, senior legal adviser for South Asia at the ICJ.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/17/where-is-somchai-a-brave-wifes-17-year-quest-for-the-truth/

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/08/30/nepal-stop-stalling-enforced-disappearance-inquiries

Today, 30 August, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance

August 30, 2019

Many NGOs pay today attention to the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Here the example of AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network) which published the following on 27 August:

For each disappeared, more activists stand up! Stop enforced disappearances against human rights defenders

On 13 April 2015, Sandra Kodouda, a Sudanese human rights defender (HRD), was abducted in Khartoum, Sudan by a group of unidentified men. Three days later she returned home with a dislocated shoulder and clear signs of physical abuse. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/04/17/update-sandra-kodouda-in-sudan-injured-but-back-from-illegal-detention-by-niss/]

Some months later, on 10 December 2015, Burundian HRD Marie Claudette Kwizera was abducted in Bujumbura, Burundi by individuals believed to be members of the Burundian National Intelligence Service (SNR). Marie is still missing.  

The cases of Sandra and Marie are not unique – it was just one of the few cases of enforced disappearance of African HRDs that made the headlines. Every year, African activists disappear without a trace, and without any media coverage. More importantly, no investigation is carried out, and no accountability is ensured. The alleged perpetrators continue to walk the streets, or, in most cases, rule the country, without any repercussions. Meanwhile, the victims are often tortured and many are killed, or live in constant fear of being killed, and the family and friends of the victim are left in the agony of not knowing the fate of their beloved. 

In international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is abducted or imprisoned by state agents or by a third party with the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, which place the victim outside the protection of the law. When used systematically, it constitutes a crime against humanity according to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED). 

Yet, it is a longstanding, systematic, and widespread tactic, often used by governments to silence HRDs, and as a strategy to spread terror within society. During the 1990s in Algeria, it is estimated that at least 7000 critical voices were abducted by government forces alone during the civil war. In Egypt, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms’ campaign, “Stop Enforced Disappearances”, has documented more than 1000 cases of enforced disappearances of HRDs under Al-Sisi’s regime. During the current revolution in Sudan, hundreds of peaceful protests were abducted, disappeared, allegedly by the security forces. The fate and whereabouts of most of the victims remains unknown.

Despite threats and reprisals, the families and the communities of the victim continue to stand up and call for justice. For instance, every year,  Burkinabe students commemorate Dabo Boukary, a student activist who disappeared during student protests in 1990. In Burundi, the impactful campaign “Ndondeza” (where are they?) continues to put pressure on the government and to call for justice. For each person that disappears, more activists stand up.

On 30 August, we commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. We call on states to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and to ensure accountability; to ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances; and to ensure adequate reparations to the survivors, and their families.

We continue to stand in solidarity with HRDs that have disappeared, been tortured, and/or killed. We continue to demand #JusticeForActivists.

For each disappeared, more activists stand up! Stop enforced disappearances against human rights defenders