Gulf European Centre for Human Rights
(Source of the picture: Amnesty International Canada)
International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances – 30 August
GECHR calls for an investigation into the issue of victims of enforced disappearance in the Middle East
Every year, thousands of people around the world are abducted by governments or Non-State Actors, so that the victim's families do not get any details of the victims for long periods or years. Therefore, enforced disappearance is a tactic used by some governments or their proxies to create insecurity and fear among societies, as is done by the Iranian authorities against citizens in Iran and as well as in the region by Iranian agents. This happens when someone is taken, possibly through arrest or abduction, and held in an unknown location without any acknowledgement by the government. Although targeted against individuals, the practice is used to terrorize and control entire communities.
In recognition of this global problem and to remember those who have disappeared, the International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearance is observed each year on 30 August. The day was declared by the UN General Assembly in 2010 in anticipation of the coming into force of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In its resolution, the General Assembly expressed its concern about the “increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world,” and stressed “the right of victims to know the truth regarding the circumstances of the enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate of the disappeared person” (Geneva International Centre for Justice).
Enforced disappearance is a global phenomenon. While it has been a well-known tool of military dictatorships, enforced disappearances are also perpetrated in many different situations of internal conflict and power instability, particularly as a means of repressing political opponents. Other frequently targeted people are human rights defenders, the families of those who have already disappeared and the lawyers who help them pursue legal remedies. Today, there is a growing trend of governments using the excuse of fighting terrorism to arbitrarily arrest and detain people who then subsequently disappear (Geneva International Centre for Justice).
Inter-American institutions have defined the phenomenon of enforced disappearances as representing acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment. Torture can be defined as the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering on a powerless victim, usually a detainee, for a specific purpose—extraction of a confession or information, intimidation, or punishment. The international community has taken a number of steps to combat torture and enforced disappearance. In addition to the absolute prohibition of torture and other forms of cruel punishment in international and regional human rights treaties, the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Organization of American States have adopted various treaties which establish the specific obligations of states to prevent torture and ill-treatment, to bring individual perpetrators of torture to justice, and to find an effective remedy and reparation for the pain suffered by the tortured (International Human Rights Law, 2003).
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 1998 defined Enforced disappearance of persons means the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organisation, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time.
Enforced disappearances and the lack of information regarding the location or condition of the missing person have a significant impact on the victim's family and community. Most of the victims of enforced disappearance are often the only or primary source of wages for the family, so the disappearance causes moral and material harm to families, particularly children. Hence, enforced disappearance leads to violations of various human rights within the affected family.
Amnesty International reported that the vast majority of victims of enforced disappearance are men. However, it is women who most often lead the struggle to find out what happened in the minutes, days and years since the disappearance – putting themselves at risk of intimidation, persecution and violence.
Iraq, after Syria, the second largest country in the world suffering from enforced disappearance, where tens of thousands of citizens abducted by armed militias, some of them linked to the Iraqi government. Enforced disappearance in about 10 countries in the world is a real crisis because more than a thousand people disappeared but in Iraq the situation is completely different where tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis abducted since 2003 but after 2014 the number has become much more. One cause of enforced disappearance in Iraq is a way to silence political dissidents and spread fear and terror in Iraqi society. Armed militias and some government agencies play a key role in this serious crisis.
The Working Group in its report mentioned that around 16,420 Iraqi disappeared that it has communicated to the Government of Iraq. This is, by far, the second largest number of any country, after Syria. However, Iraqi human rights groups believe that the number of disappear is more than 250,000 cases, many of them killed in secret detention belonging to Iraqi militias and some government bodies. For example, some human rights organisations received information about the illegal burial of nearly 300 bodies that were transferred by the Babil Governorate to a so-called non-governmental organisation for burial. It seems that all those victims are Sunni from Babil and Baghdad province, who were disappeared in 2014.
Amnesty International reported that some 82,000 people have been subjected to enforced disappearance in Syria since 2011. The overwhelming majority of those have vanished into a network of government detention centres, but more than 2,000 individuals have gone missing after being detained by armed opposition groups and the armed group that calls itself the Islamic State. However, Syrian human rights organisations stated that the exact number of forced disappearances in Syria is around 264,000 people.
Other countries in the region
There are no official numbers of enforced disappearance in Lebanon and Yemen, but some unofficial statistics point to 5,000 in Yemen abducted by Houthi militias backed by Iran and more than 2,000 people in Lebanon since the last years of the civil war in Lebanon.
The number of abductees in Iran is divided into three stages: 1979 to 1987, 1988 to 1989, and the third stage since the 1990s.
During the early years of the revolution in Iran, armed militias linked to the new political regime in Iran abducted more than 10,000 people from opposition political currents and from the Ahwazi people (massacre of al-Mohammerah in 1979), Baluchi and Kurdish. They were executed without the knowledge of their families in unfair courts. This crime lasted until 1987, where a large number of these victims are still missing.
The second stage of crime was committed in 1988 and 1989, when more than 20,000 political prisoners were killed in prisons and no one knows about the course of the bodies. Iranian authorities admit to the execution of 5,000 people who were buried in the cemeteries of Tehran and the rest of the regions in Iran, but the oppositions say more than 20,000 were executed and their families still do not know anything about where the victims are buried.
The third phase of the Iranian regime's crimes lasted from 1990s to the present day, when the intelligence services abduct the individuals from the street or from check points or from home. For months the families of victims do not know about the path of their children. So many victims die under torture or be execute without the knowledge of their families. This crime is widespread in Ahwaz and Baluchistan. Noteworthy is still more than 130 Baloch are still disappearing.
Article 1 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states that no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance and no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or the threat of war, internal political instability or any other case may be invoked. Another exception, to justify enforced disappearance. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court considers "enforced disappearance" a crime against humanity and is therefore within its jurisdiction.
The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states in its article 1 that “no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance” and in article 2 that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or the threat of war, Internal political stability, or any other exception, to justify enforced disappearance”. Article VII of the International Convention affirms the criminalisation of "any person who commits the crime of enforced disappearance, orders, recommends or attempts to commit it, is complicit or participates in its commission".
Article 3: Each State Party shall take appropriate measures to investigate the conduct specified in article 2 by persons or groups of individuals acting without the authorization, support or consent of the State and to bring those responsible to justice.
Article 4: Each State Party shall take the necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes a crime in its criminal law.
Article 5: The general or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and entails the consequences set forth in that law.
Article 6: Each State Party shall take the necessary measures to hold criminal responsibility.
And others article in the International Convention for the Protection provide for the protection of human beings and an end to enforced disappearance.
Gulf European Centre for Human Rights remains concerned about continuing reports indicating that the practice of torture and ill-treatment and enforced disappearance in the Islamic Republic of Iran persists, particularly against political prisoners and detainees in Ahwaz and other parts of Iran such as physical and physiological torture. Furthermore, the judiciary continues to sentence people to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, such as long-life imprisonment or bail with high prices. GECHR gained documents of Iranian ill-treatment against Ahwazi prisoners including blunt force trauma, burns, sharp force, electric shocks, use of water, crushing, pharmacological torture, asphyxiation, and amputation, as well as sleep deprivation, threats, humiliation, and prolonged solitary confinement.
Ahwazi human rights sources informed GECHR that the Iranian security forces and the intelligence services continue their heinous abuses against the Ahwazi detainees in their notorious prisons, which lack the minimum necessities of life, in addition to the brutal and physical torture and medical negligence that have claimed hundreds of lives. GECHR has received information that Ahwazi detainees Mr Yusuf Mahdi Al-Fakhir (Yusuf Sawari) has been subjected to a new wave of brutal torture in the prisons by the Iranian security forces. Mr Yusuf Sawari was disappeared by the Iranian intelligence services in November 2018 after they raided his own home in the town of Abu Hemida of the city of Al-Khafajeyah (Susangerd). His family did not have any information about his situation for at least two months.
The Iranian authorities, their agents and militias are responsible for the crisis of enforced disappearance in the region, namely Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The Gulf European Centre for Human Rights holds the responsibility on the Iranian authorities and calls on the international community to act immediately to end this crime against humanity, which is a violation of international humanitarian law, and it is a war crime.
GECHR request ‘forming an international body to become a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in Iraq, Syria and the rest of the region.
Take all necessary measures to prevent State actors and their affiliates from perpetrating enforced disappearances.
Put in place systems to effectively investigate incidents of enforced disappearances and inform the families of the victims.
Hold all perpetrators to account, including military and political officials who condone or direct others to conduct enforced disappearance.
Investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute those suspected of criminal responsibility in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts without recourse to death penalty.
Forming international courts to hold armed militias accountable in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and even the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The trial of Qassim Soleimani because he is the principal responsible for the establishment of these militias. Accountability of government agencies in Iraq and Iran for their involvement in the creation of militias to abduct citizens and opponents, which are committing war crimes.