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UN: Enforced Disappearances Continue Unabated Globally

A parishioner points at photographs of missing persons during a mass to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in San Francisco de Asis church in Tala, in Jalisco state, Mexico, Aug. 31, 2014.

The United Nations says tens of thousands of cases of enforced disappearances remain unsolved. The U.N. Working Group on Enforced Disappearances says this heinous practice continues unabated in every region of the world. The group has submitted its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The working group reports more than 43,000 cases from 88 countries still remain to be clarified. While many of these cases are of recent vintage, the chair of the Working Group, Ariel Dulitsky, said many date back decades.

“We consider that enforced disappearances are a continuous crime until the fate of the person who disappeared is established. The crimes continue to happen,” said Dulitsky.

The Working Group was established in 1980, largely as a consequence of Argentina’s “Dirty War” when many political dissidents were abducted or illegally detained in secret prisons. More than 3,200 cases from that period remain unsolved.

The cases remain open because enforced disappearances are considered a crime against humanity. So, it is not subject to the statute of limitations.

The U.N. defines an enforced disappearance as when a government or people acting with consent of that government abduct a person and then refuse to disclose that person's fate or whereabouts, in effect placing the person outside the protection of the law.

During the latest period of review, from November 2012 to May 2014, the Working Group has made known 418 new cases of enforced disappearances to 42 states, including 93 under the group's urgent action procedure.

The report notes Iraq has the largest number of disappearances, with more than 16,400 reported cases. Sri Lanka has more than 5,700 cases, Algeria more than 3,000 and El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru each have more than 2,000 unresolved cases of enforced disappearances.

Dulitsky said new strategies are needed to combat the changing situation of enforced disappearances. In the past, he notes this practice was used to quell political opposition or ethnic conflict. Now, he said it increasingly is being used in anti-terrorism operations and to combat drug trafficking and organized crime.

"We see also that new technologies that could allow to identify missing persons and disappeared persons are not being used. The DNA tests worldwide are not being used. The use of other technological improvement are not being used, information is not being shared between countries. So, we call all the states to develop new strategies,” said Dulitsky.

Dulitsky said the Working Group has started a new procedure this past year in investigating enforced disappearances that happen in the context of crimes against humanity. In the last several months, he said the Group asked the U.N. Security Council to refer both North Korea and Syria to the International Criminal Court. Regrettably, he said the Council has failed to act on this demand.