International Day of the Disappeared marked today
of the Disappeared is marked by the world community on August 30. The date appeared
in the United Nations’ calendar in 2011.
In 2010, the UN called on its institutions, as well as other international and regional organizations and civil society to begin celebrating this day, recognizing the global scale of the crime, which is reflected in the annual reports of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The UN General Assembly Resolution, which proclaimed the International Day of the Disappeared, expressed grave concern, in particular over the increase in enforced disappearances in various regions of the world and the number of reports concerning harassment, ill-treatment and intimidation of witnesses of disappearances or relatives of disappeared persons.
Enforced disappearances used to be associated only with military dictatorships. Today, they can occur in difficult situations of internal conflicts, especially as a means of political repression of opponents.
Of particular concern to the United Nations on this issue are:
- continuous harassment of human rights defenders and relatives of victims, witnesses and lawyers dealing with cases of enforced disappearances;
- the governments’ use of anti-terrorism means as an excuse for the violation of their obligations;
- ongoing common practice of impunity for enforced disappearances.
Left without the protection of the law and "disappeared" to society, people are actually deprived of all rights and are completely at the mercy of their captors. With the disappearance of an individual, the following rights are violated:
- the right to recognition before the law;
- the right to liberty and security of person;
- the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
- the right to life, if the missing person is killed;
- the right to an identity;
- the right to a fair trial and to judicial guarantees;
- the right to an effective remedy, including compensation and reparations;
- the right to know the truth about the circumstances of the disappearance.
Disappearances are also usually associated with violations of various economic, social and cultural rights:
- the right to protection of the family and assistance;
- the right to an adequate standard of living;
- the right to health;
- the right to education.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances was established in 1980 by the UN Human Rights Commission. It is composed of five experts. They consider the reports of missing people, sent by their relatives or human rights organizations. Making sure that the messages meet a number of criteria, the Working Group transmits materials about specific cases to the authorities of the countries concerned and makes a request for an investigation.
The basic document on this issue is the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Adopted by the UN in 2006, the Convention entered into force on 23 December 2010, when the number of participating countries reached 20. The purpose of the Convention is to prevent enforced disappearances, which are defined in Article 2 as follows: "the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law".
To monitor the implementation of the Convention on 31 May 2011 the UN established the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. The Committee members are elected for four years, renewable once by voting. The voting involved countries that have ratified the Convention. Under the Convention, the Committee members must be representatives of the countries that have ratified the document. As a result of the vote, the Committee included representatives of Iraq, France, Uruguay, Argentina, Germany, Albania, Spain, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
As of today, 91 countries have signed the Convention, 34 countries have ratified or acceded to the Treaty. Belarus is not on the list of these countries.
And yet, the problem of enforced disappearances in Belarus is topical. In 1999, the country lost without a trace two prominent opposition members – former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka and vice-chairman of the Supreme Council of the 13th convocation Viktar Hanchar, as well as businessman Anatol Krasouski. All these people have one thing in common: they were open opponents of the Lukashenka regime. In the summer of 2000 Lukashenka’s former personal cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski disappeared. The fate of Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski is still not known by their families.
According to human rights defenders, the investigation of the cases of political disappearances have been blocked by the country's leadership and the cases can reach the court only after the change of power in Belarus.