Governments around the world are consistently using enforced disappearances to secure their own power and silence opposition, said Amnesty International, ahead of this year’s International Day of the Disappeared on 30 August.
“Amnesty International campaigns on hundreds of cases of enforced disappearance in all regions of the world. This Day of the Disappeared, our millions of supporters globally will press governments who employ enforced disappearances to stop using this cruel tactic once and for all,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
The organization is highlighting cases from each of its global regions this year:
Middle East and North Africa – Syria and Egypt
The Syrian government has forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of people since the country’s crisis began in 2011. Human rights lawyer Khalil Ma’touq was arrested by security forces in October 2012 in Damascus and remains missing nearly four years later. Similarly, the whereabouts of software engineer and free speech activist Bassel Khartabil, first arrested in March 2012 and later moved to prison in Damascus, have been unknown since October last year.
In Egypt, the Interior Ministry is using enforced disappearance as a policy to wipe out peaceful dissent. Since early 2015, hundreds of Egyptians, including children, have vanished at the hands of the state. Egypt’s Public Prosecution has been complicit in these violations and repeatedly failed to bring those responsible to justice. Aser Mohamed, 14, was forcibly disappeared for 34 days and tortured in January 2016. Meanwhile, Islam Khalil was abducted from his home in May 2015, his fate concealed for 122 days. Both face trial based on “confessions” obtained under torture. If convicted, Khalil could face the death penalty; Aser, up to 15 years in prison.
The Americas – Mexico
According to Amnesty International’s January 2016 report ‘Treated with Indolence’, the State’s Response to Disappearances in Mexico, there are more than 27,000 people whose whereabouts are unknown in Mexico. The report looks at cases including the disappearance of 43 teacher training students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014 and the crisis of disappearances in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc in the State of Chihuahua between 2009 and 2014.
The report’s recommendations include establishing enforced disappearances as separate offences in the country’s General Law on Disappearances and recognizing the state’s obligation to start a search for those reported disappeared.
Asia – Pakistan and Laos
It has been more than a year since Zeenat Shahzadi, 24, became the first female journalist to be “disappeared” in Pakistan. She has not been heard from since 19 August 2015. According to her family, she was detained by security officials shortly before she went missing. Her case has been pending without any progress in the government’s Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances.
When Barack Obama becomes the first US President to visit Laos next month, he should ask “Where is Sombath?” Activist Sombath Somphone was taken away by police in December 2012 and his fate remains unknown. Three years after the event, Amnesty International called on the Lao government to establish an independent commission to uncover the truth, saying the police investigations into the disappearance have been inadequate. The authorities have also failed to supply adequate information on the progress of the investigations to Sombath’s family.
Europe – Turkey
Recent security operations in south-eastern Turkey are being carried out beyond the reaches and protections of the law. Kurdish politician Hurşit Külter, a vocal advocate of self-rule for Turkey’s Kurds, disappeared almost three months ago on 27 May, and has not been heard from since. Local authorities and security forces have denied taking him into custody, though Külter contacted his father shortly before his disappearance to say police were at his house. Amnesty International is dismayed by the apparent failure of the authorities to initiate a prompt, effective and independent investigation into the alleged enforced disappearance.
Africa – Cameroon, Kenya and Zimbabwe
In Cameroon, security forces’ attempts to clamp down on Boko Haram have led to arbitrary arrests, detentions, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. In the country’s far north the whereabouts of at least 130 people are still unknown since their arrest on 27 December 2014. They were among more than 200 boys and men arrested that day by security forces during a raid on suspected Boko Haram fighters. On 30 August, Amnesty International is launching a campaign, “Protect our rights”, calling on authorities in Cameroon to clarify the fate of those still missing.
In Kenya, enforced disappearances have become commonplace. Despite compelling evidence, the authorities continue to deny that the problem is systemic. This month the High Court found that human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josphat Mwendwa and their taxi driver Joseph Muiruri, whose bodies were found dumped in a river in July, had been subjected to enforced disappearance and later executed by police. Amnesty International has called for the formation of a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate cases of enforced disappearance and for the establishment of a comprehensive accountability framework consistent with international human rights standards.
The enforced disappearance of government critics has become standard practice in Zimbabwe. Over a year after writing to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe about the disappeared activist Itai Dzamara, a prominent critic of Robert Mugabe, Amnesty International is renewing its call for the Zimbabwean government to establish a Commission of Inquiry into his case. Dzamara has not been seen since 9 March 2015. The government is yet to respond.