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The crime of enforced disappearances must end

Context:

  • After the February 2021 military launched a coup d’état to overthrow the democratically elected government in Myanmar, the democracy movement in Myanmar is at a critical juncture with the military committed to suppressing the people’s movement and the police carrying out unimaginable acts of violence and oppression against those demanding freedom of expression and the restoration of democracy.
  • Since the coup, the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has received reports of enforced disappearances from the family members of victims.
  • The Working Group has serious concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on enforced disappearances

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Population related issues)

Mains Questions:

Cases of enforced disappearances are not decreasing, with domestic criminal law systems insufficient to deal with this atrocity. Discuss. (10 marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Enforced Disappearances
  2. Enforced Disappearances in the recent times
  3. Remedial measures
  4. International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006
  5. Way Forward

Understanding Enforced Disappearances

  • Enforced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization, or by a third party with the authorization, support, of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.
  • Enforced disappearances became widely known to the world in the 1970s and the early 1980s during the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina.
  • Dirty War, also called Process of National Reorganization, was a infamous campaign waged by Argentina’s military dictatorship against suspected left-wing political opponents.

An enforced disappearance is defined by several constituent elements:

  1. Deprivation of liberty: where persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty.
  2. Governmental responsibility for the act: in enforced disappearances, there are grounds for seeking governmental responsibility for the act, including of officials of different branches or levels of government or by organised groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of, the government.
  3. State’s refusal to take relevant action: such an act typically occurs in the context of a state’s continuous refusal to take relevant action, including refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.

Enforced Disappearances in the recent times

  • The Myanmar military is committed to suppressing the people’s movement, and the police are carrying out unimaginable acts of violence and oppression against those demanding freedom of expression and the restoration of democracy.
  • In China, under the pretext of re-education to prevent terrorism, Uyghur minority ethnic group members are forcibly sent to what Chinese authorities call ‘vocational education and training centers’, with no information on their whereabouts.
  • Sri Lanka has experienced more than three decades of domestic conflict accompanied by various forms of enforced disappearances.

Remedial measures

  • Under the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992), the Working Group works to assist families of disappeared persons to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared and to assist and monitor states’ compliance.
  • Additionally, with the assistance of the secretariat members based in Geneva, the Working Group monitors states’ compliance, and documented cases of enforced disappearance.
  • The Working Group receives individual petitions from victims’ families and civil society members, and channels them through to the relevant governments to demand searches for the disappeared persons, investigations, and punishment for those responsible.
  • The WGEID also presses states to offer remedies, including compensation and a guarantee of non-recurrence of the violations.
  • Since its inception, the Working Group has transmitted a total of more than 50 thousand cases to more than 100 states – Unfortunately, the number of cases of enforced disappearances in Asian states is not decreasing and we are seeing a rapid increase in some countries.

International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006

  • International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006, aimed at protecting the right to be free from enforced disappearances, became effective in 2010 and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) was established.
  • CED and WGEID coexist side by side and seek to collaborate and coordinate their activities with a view to strengthen the joint efforts to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances.
  • The number of participating states in the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006, is still very low compared to other treaties.
  • Among 63 member states of the treaty, only eight states from the Asia-Pacific region have ratified or acceded to the treaty.
  • Only four East Asian states — Cambodia, Japan, Mongolia, and Sri Lanka have ratified it. India has signed the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006 but not ratified it.

Way Forward

  • Enforced disappearance is a serious crime that goes against humanity. The pain and suffering of the family members do not end until they find out the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones.
  • Asian countries should consider their obligations and responsibilities more seriously and reject a culture of impunity in order to eradicate enforced disappearances.
  • The domestic criminal law systems are not sufficient to deal with the crime of enforced disappearance. It is a continuous crime that needs a comprehensive approach to fight against it.
  • The international community must strengthen its efforts to eradicate enforced disappearances at the earliest.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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