FOCUS ON: ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to prevent forced disappearance, which, according to international law, is a crimes against humanity. The document was approved by the UN General Assembly on December 20, 2006, and it became available for signature on February 6, 2007. It became effective on December 23, 2010. 98 states had signed the convention as of January 2023, and 69 had ratified it.
According to Article 2 of the ICPED, an enforced disappearance is considered to be ”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” (OHCHR, n.d.).
The peculiarity of this crime is that the victim is placed outside the protection of the law. As a consequence of this, many disappeared people are arbitrarily arrested or detained without a warrant of arrest. Moreover, a missing individual also faces a significant danger of being tortured. Other human rights violations to which victims of enforced disappearance are exposed to are sexual violence or even murder. Enforced disappearances are thus often used as a strategy to spread terror within society, as the consequent insecurity sentiment affects communities and society as a whole, and not just the immediate family members of the missing (Amnesty International, n.d.). As outlined by Martin Schuepp, ICRC’s director for Europe and Central Asia, “when a person goes missing, their family suffers unimaginable anguish and distress, so clarifying the fate of missing people is a humanitarian act. Reconnecting families is as important to our mission as providing food, shelter or water. People we assist frequently tell us that their absolute priority is to learn if their loved ones are safe” (ICRC, 2019).
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), due to decades of war and violence, Iraq has one among the greatest numbers of enforced disappearances in the world, together with Nigeria, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria. The majority of Iraqi families are either personally impacted by this tragic phenomenon or know someone who is (ICRC, 2019).
In 2022, Iraq accepted a visit of the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearance. MHEurope seized this opportunity to combine its efforts with those of Mercy Hands for Humanitarian Aid and of Geneva International Center for Justice to equip Iraqi CSOs with solid knowledge and skills to engage constructively with advancing cases pertaining to these matters. This objective has been pursued through the ongoing project “Strengthening Civil Societies and the Rule of Law in Iraq as a Peacebuilding Tool Phase II”. The project consisted in a series of training sessions, delivered by human rights experts in the cities of Mosul and Erbil (Iraq), aimed at empowering the Iraqi civil societies, as well as a group of academics, lawyers and journalists, to help shed light on these developing trends and to help realise more justice for victims through increased awareness about enforced disappearances. The project was crowned by the meeting of the trainees with the CED, on the occasion of its November 2022 visit.
During their visit, The UN CED called on Iraq to take urgent action to include enforced disappearance as an autonomous offence in national legislation, stressing that the process cannot be further postponed (OHCHR, 2022).
Amnesty International (n.d.). What would you do if state authorities made your loved one disappear? [online] Amnesty International. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/enforced-disappearances/#:~:text=Enforced%20disappearances%20are%20a%20serious [Accessed 11 Jan. 2023].
ICRC (2019). Iraq: Hundreds of thousands of people remain missing after decades of war, violence. [online] International Committee of the Red Cross. Available at: https://www.icrc.org/en/document/iraq-hundreds-thousands-people-remain-missing-after-decades-war-violence [Accessed 13 Jan. 2023].
OHCHR (n.d.). About enforced disappearance. [online] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/wg-disappearances/about-enforced-disappearance [Accessed 13 Jan. 2023].
OHCHR (2022). Enforced Disappearance in Iraq: UN committee concludes country visit, calls for urgent legislative reform and attention to victims. [online] OHCHR. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/11/enforced-disappearance-iraq-un-committee-concludes-country-visit-calls [Accessed 13 Jan. 2023].