A resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights of 29 February 1980 established the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances - WGEID. This was followed by the UN General Assembly declaration in 1992, “Protection of all persons from enforced Disappearances”. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) is, of course, the body composed of all UN member States.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPED) was adopted by the UNGA on 20 December 2006 and opened for signatories on 6 February 2007. After 32 States had ratified this convention, on 23 December 2010, it entered into force.
As of 14 July 2012, ninety one (91) States are signatories and 34 are parties to this convention. Most of the countries which have the worst records on disappearances have neither signed nor become parties to this convention - Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China, Russian Federation, Iran, Israel and a few other countries. India signed it on 6 February 2007.
The WGEID holds three regular sessions during the year and consists of five independent experts. Current members are from France, South Africa, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Argentina.
The mandate of the WGEID is to assist families to determine the fate of their “disappeared” kith and kin. The Working Group creates communications between the States and the families to deal with cases which have already been brought to the attention of the Working Group.
Like other mandates, the WGEID reminds states of their obligations. For further discussion concerning disappearances, the definitions of “Enforced disappearance” and “Perpetrators” are useful to know - the report A/HRC/19/58/Rev.1 of 1 January 2012 says:
Definition of enforced disappearance : - As defined in the preamble of the Declaration, enforced disappearances occur when persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.
Definition of Perpetrators: - The Working Group operates for purposes of its work on the basis that, in accordance with the definition contained in the Preamble of the Declaration, enforced disappearances are only considered as such when the act in question is perpetrated by State actors or by private individuals or organized groups (e.g. paramilitary groups) acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government. Based on the above, the Working Group does not admit cases when they are attributed to persons or groups not acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, such as terrorist or insurgent movements fighting the Government in its own territory.
The cases in the WGEID are dealt with under two different procedures – the Urgent procedure and the Standard procedure. The Urgent procedure deals with disappearance cases that happened within the previous 3 months. These are immediately transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the concerned State and the source informed that an urgent action has been sent.
The idea of informing the Source is to encourage them to deal with the concerned government regarding the particular case. Any reply received from the Government regarding the cases transmitted by the Working Group, is communicated to the person who submitted the case.
The Standard procedure includes disappearance cases reported after three months. The WGEID examines those cases in detail during the session and transmits them to the concerned state with a request to carry out an investigation to clarify or find out the fate of the victim/victims. The WGEID waits for the result of the investigation of the concerned government.
Admissibility of the cases depends on the following information: The case can be submitted by family members, friends, a Non-Governmental Organization - NGO or any other reliable source. The cases should be submitted in writing with clear details of the person or organization submitting the case. There should be sufficient information for the WGEID to communicate with the party concerned.
Submitted cases should include : - Full name of the disappeared person; if possible, age, gender, nationality, occupation or profession; date of disappearance or arrest or abduction, or day, month and year when the disappeared person was last seen. When the disappeared person was last seen in a detention centre, an approximate indication -month or period and year is sufficient for the WGEID.
The place of arrest or abduction should also be included or where the disappeared person was last seen (indication of town or village, at least); It is very important also to include the parties acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, presumed to have carried out the arrest or abduction or to be holding the disappeared person in unacknowledged detention.
Steps taken by the family to determine the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person should also be included. The reason for giving this information is to prove that all domestic remedies have been exhausted, and that there are no available mechanisms in the country to establish the whereabouts of the disappeared person or persons.
Anyone submitting a case or cases with the status of reliable source needs to indicate whether the relatives of the victim/victims have given their consent to submit the case to the WGEID on their behalf.
When submitting a case to the WGEID one can ask for confidentiality. This is to avoid reprisals and to ensure a certain level of protection.
With the consent of the relevant government, the WGEID can visit a country to assess the overall situation of disappearances and then release a report on their visit.
The WGEID submits annual reports on its activities to the Human Rights Council, detailing its communications with governments and others, on disappearance cases received during the year.
However, international pressure may be a key factor in whether a case of disappearance is solved or not, or whether reprisals are targeted against people working on the cases.
The Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland:
Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances - WGEID
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - OHCHR
Palais Wilson - United Nations
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax +41 22 917 9006 (indicate: “For the attention of: WGEID”).