Justice sought for victims of enforced disappearances

As the world marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance, Amnesty International today calls on governments across South Asia to deliver long overdue truth, justice and reparations to the families of thousands of people who have been forcibly disappeared, some of them decades ago.

Enforced disappearances have scarred communities across South Asia, where in some countries this heinous crime is still persistent while others have failed to deliver on promises of truth, justice and reparations for the thousands who were wrenched away from their loved ones.

“Enforced disappearance is one of the worst human rights violations. People are wrenched away from their loved ones by state officials or others acting on their behalf, who then deny the person is in their custody or refuse to say where they are. Families are plunged into a state of anguish, desperately trying to keep the flame of hope alive while fearing the worst. They may be trapped in this limbo for years, even decades,” said Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.

According to him, South Asia has a particularly gruesome record when it comes to enforced disappearances, with some governments persisting with the practice while others have failed to provide answers to those who have waited years for them. It is about time that governments in the region properly investigate and punish cases enforced disappearances and consign this practice to the past. People who have been subjected to enforced disappearance must be immediately released unless they can be charged with a recognizable offence.

People who are forcibly disappeared are at grave risk of torture and even death. Enforced disappearances are a tool of terror with a devastating impact that strikes not just individuals and their families, but entire societies leaving scars that are very difficult to heal. This is why they are a crime under international law, and if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population, they constitute a crime against humanity.

In India, reports of enforced disappearances are largely from areas declared “disturbed” under the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA), like Kashmir and Manipur. According to a report published by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) in 2017, around 8000 enforced disappearances have been reported in Kashmir during the period 1989-2012.

It also mentioned that enforced disappearances were common in Manipur and other states in the North East of India in the 1980s and 1990s. India has not made enforced disappearances a specific criminal offence in its penal code. As a result, families of the “disappeared” have to file complaints under general provisions of Indian criminal law. Despite signing the United Nations’ International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances in 2007, India is yet to ratify the Convention.

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