As the world marks International Day of the Disappeared today, Reporters Without Borders notes that many countries are still violating international law on this matter, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which the UN General Assembly adopted in 2006.
Reporters Without Borders calls for the universal ratification of this convention, which has so far been signed by 91 countries and ratified by 29. Combating enforced disappearance is vital in the struggle against dictatorships and arbitrary rule.
Enforced disappearance includes both secret imprisonment and secret house arrest, in which the families of the victims are denied any information about their fate or where they are being held. It is a form of abduction and sometimes ends in murder.
It is a radical method of oppression in which human rights defenders, opposition activists, free speech activists and independent journalists are removed from society because they are often on the front line of the struggle against authoritarian regimes. As well censoring calls for freedom and justice, dictatorships target those who make the calls.
Enforced disappearances, which contravene international law and often the law of the countries where they take place, must be condemned firmly. Without an effective struggle against this evil, without binding measures that require respect for the basic legal rules on arrest and detention, any improvement in fundamental freedoms is impossible. The widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity. The prosecution of those responsible should be a priority.
Article 2 of the convention defines “enforced disappearance” as “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.”
Iran and China have turned enforced disappearance into a favoured method of censoring free speech. The uprisings in Libya and Syria have led to extra-judicial arrests of many journalists. Mexico has many cases of unsolved disappearances of journalists. The inhumane prison conditions in Eritrea, a small country forgotten by the international community, must be condemned. And finally, disappearances are also common in Pakistan, the world’s most dangerous country for journalists. Reporters Without Borders highlights several key cases below.
Human rights and pro-democracy activist Pirouz Davani, editor of the paper Pirouz, vanished in late August 1998. The paper Kar-e-Karagar said on 28 November that year he had been executed. Akbar Ganji, of Sobh-é-Emrouz, who was investigating the case, confirmed this in late November 2000 and accused the then prosecutor of the special ecclesiastical court, Mohseni Ejehi, (the current prosecutor-general) of being involved in his death. The judiciary has not investigated.
Journalist Kouhyar Goudarzi has been held in secret since 1 August
2011 for unknown reasons and justice officials have not said where he
is being held.
Human rights campaigner Govruud Huuchinhuu, of the Southern Mongolian
Democratic Alliance (SMDA), has been missing since she was released on
27 January 2011 from Tongliao hospital (通辽), Inner Mongolia (northern
China), where she was being treated for cancer. She had been under
house arrest since November 2010 for urging online that Mongolian
dissidents celebrate the release of journalist and cyberdissident
Hada, who heads the SDMA and defends China’s Mongolian minority.
Officials say he was freed after more than 15 years at the end of his
sentence on 10 December 2010 but he is still in prison. There has
been no news of him for several weeks.
Journalist Rehmatullah Darpakhel was kidnapped in North Waziristan on
11 August 2011.
Prageeth Ekneligoda, journalist and cartoonist with Lankaenews,
vanished in Colombo on 24 January 2010. No progress has been made in
efforts to find him.
Most of the 30 or so journalists in prison are considered to have disappeared because of the problems of finding them and the regime’s refusal to give any information about where they are and their state of health. The best known is Dawit Isaac, founder of the now-closed weekly Setit and holding dual Eritrean and Swedish nationality, who since his arrest on 23 September 2001 has alternated between prison and hospital spells in the capital, Asmara. He was transferred in 2009 from a provincial prison in Embatkala to the air force hospital in Asmara, where he was treated for several months. Then he vanished and nobody has been allowed to visit him. He may be in Asmara’s Karchelle prison or in the Eiraeiro prison, northeast of the capital.
Other vanished journalists include the editor and co-founder of the
fortnightly Meqaleh, Mattewos Habteab, arrested in Asmara on 19
September 2001, and sports writer Temesgen Gebreyesus, of the
fortnightly Keste Debena, who was arrested the next day.
Journalist María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, of the daily papers Diario
de Zamora and Cambio de Michoacán (in the southwestern state of
Michoacán), disappeared in 2009. Marco Antonio López Ortiz, news
editor of the Acapulco paper El Sur (in the southwestern state of
Guerrero), vanished in June 2011. No official investigation has
produced any results.
The netizen Paulus Le Son was arrested on 3 August 2011 in Hanoi in the course of a major police operation targeting a dozen Catholics. There has been no news of him since then. It was the second time he was arrested this year.
Many foreign and Libyan journalists were detained for several days by supporters of the Gaddafi regime with no news of where they were being held or their conditions of detention. Disappearances are also frequent in Syria of journalists, activists and witnesses to the repression by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.