International Day of the Disappeared – Human rights perspective on the issue of enforced disappearances and the Bosnian case

NEW RELEASES – The importance of the 30th of August as the Day of the Disappeared needs to be constantly stressed, not only for the people who went missing and for their families, but also to avoid that such inhuman practices will ever be adopted again in the future. The international community has already taken some progressive steps – however, there’s much more that needs to be done. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated:
"On this international day, I urge all Member States to ratify or accede to the Convention [International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance] without delay, and I call on the States parties to the Convention to implement it. It is time for an end to all enforced disappearances.”1

 

Anglais

The International Day of the Disappeared


The 30th of August of each year, the international community raises awareness on the situation of people forcefully taken away and often forgotten by the public eye. Enforced disappearances happen all over the world and they represent a serious threat towards decisive and clear human rights protection.


What is, effectively, an ‘enforced disappearance’? As Amnesty International clarifies, “Enforced disappearances are perpetrated by state agents or people acting on their behalf with a refusal to acknowledge this or conceal the person’s fate or whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.”2 Thus, once a member of society has been taken away – often in unknown locations – the family and relatives of that person never hear about them again.


The real issue is that these people almost never appear before a court of law and a fair trial is not guaranteed to them. Their detention is, therefore, completely arbitrary and subjected to the will of the authorities. Enforced disappearances, thus, represent a real “strategy to spread terror within the society”3, as the United Nations have pointed out, and they need to be stopped along with other human rights abuses.

 


The Bosnia and Herzegovina case


After three years (1992-1995) of devastating war, which left the country in great difficulty, Bosnia and Herzegovina is now an independent state, but under international administration.


In the twenty years that followed the end of the war, one of the griefs Bosnian people had and still have to go through is the one of bearing a loss. There are, in fact, many cases of families that have now a final and ultimate goal in their lives: find out what happened to their disappeared loves ones. Whilst being alienated from society, living with a sense of guilt for managing to survive and with scarce hope, these people keep on trying to find the truth even though their voices are not been heard enough. The ethnic origin of people who were enemies during the war is not important anymore: what counts now it to clarify the past and carry on with their lives.4


For instance, the ICRC reported: “Munira Subasic, a Bosniak from Srebrenica, had been without news of her family since the fall of her home town in July 1995. She found her husband Hilmo in 2004. He was exhumed from a gravesite near Srebrenica, while her son Nermin, who was only 19 when he disappeared, was found this year. His remains were incomplete and in a heartbreaking decision, Munira agreed to bury only one bone of her son.”5


Through exhumations and identifications, many Bosnian families managed to find an answer and put their mind at peace. However, many of them are still looking for the missing person who was once part of their life.

 


International commitment and effective change


Whilst the hopes of families and friends to find their loved ones start vanishing, the international community sends today a clear message to the global society: clear stances need to be urgently taken. For instance, The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called out for a “greater commitment”6 on behalf of international organisations to help finding missing people and to give support to the ones that are fighting to find their loved ones.


As Marianne Pecassou, who heads the activities carried out by the ICRC for the families of missing persons, said "The scars that war leaves on relatives of missing persons and their communities are deep." It will take time to heal those scars, but we can only do that if we stand together against these inhuman practices and if we commit not to make them happen again. As the ICRC has reported: “It is vital that governments and others step up their efforts to relieve the suffering of so many people and to address one of the most complex, challenging and under-reported humanitarian problems in the world today.”7


Hopefully, as Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon has pointed out8, a first, decisive step will be for more States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and, for those who have already adhered to it, to fully comply with the provisions of the Convention. In fact, this piece of international legislation represents an incredibly important effort, on behalf of the international community, to function as a guideline for States throughout the world on this urgent and serious matter.

 

 

1 United Nations (30 August 2016), “International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances”, http://www.un.org/en/events/disappearancesday/

2 Amnesty International (27 August 2016), “The Day of the Disappeared: Enforced disappearances continue unabated in every region of the world”, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/day-of-the-disappeared/

3 United Nations, Op.Cit.

4 BBC News (25 March 2016), “Bosnia-Herzegovina country profile”, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17211415

5 International Committee of the Red Cross (28 August 2012), “International Day of the Disappeared: helping families in their quest to find out what happened”, https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2012/day-disap...

6 International Committee of the Red Cross (28 August 2016), “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Families of missing persons pursue their quest”, https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/feature/2013/09-28-bosnia-h...

7 Ibidem

8 United Nations, Op.Cit.



MR – Research Assistant at CIPADH

 


Webography


Amnesty International (27 August 2016), “The Day of the Disappeared: Enforced disappearances continue unabated in every region of the world”, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/08/day-of-the-disappeared/


International Committee of the Red Cross (28 August 2012), “International Day of the Disappeared: helping families in their quest to find out what happened”, https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/news-release/2012/day-disap...


International Committee of the Red Cross (30 August 2016), “International Day of the Disappeared: Why it matters”, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/missing-persons-international-day-of-th...


United Nations (30 August 2016), “International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances”, http://www.un.org/en/events/disappearancesday/


BBC News (25 March 2016), “Bosnia-Herzegovina country profile”, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17211415


International Committee of the Red Cross (28 August 2016), “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Families of missing persons pursue their quest”, https://www.icrc.org/eng/resources/documents/feature/2013/09-28-bosnia-h...


International Commission on Missing Persons (29 August 2016), “Resolving “No-Name” cases In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo”, http://www.icmp.int/news/resolving-no-name-cases-in-bosnia-and-herzegovi...


International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, OHCHR, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/disappearance-conven...

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