“We want to know where they are”

Enforced disappearance is a global problem, and one that is often governed by a single principle: to cause fear among the population. The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is an opportunity to recognize the human rights defenders who support families and friends of forcibly disappeared persons in their search for the truth.

According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of people have disappeared during conflicts or periods of repression in at least 85 countries around the world. The Norwegian Human Rights Fund joins families and friends who have been taken away their loved ones in demanding to know where they are. We recognize the hard work that human rights defenders do to provide support and guidance, which in many cases is key to making progress on the long search for the truth. These defenders and their work continue to be persecuted and threatened in many parts of the world. Some states are using the fight against terrorism as an excuse for failing to comply with their obligations, and there is a still widespread impunity for the practice of enforced disappearance.

The NHRF supports human rights organisations in different parts of the world that work every day to find out where disappeared persons are. This support remains confident that their work is key to enabling the families of victims of enforced disappearance to know the truth.

COLOMBIA

Using science to search for disappeared persons in rivers

"It is impossible to have a peaceful society if these facts are not clarified and without telling relatives where their disappeared are. People have a right to the truth" Diana Arango, Director of EQUITAS

In 2016, Colombia signed a historic peace agreement with the FARC guerrilla. This was a breakthrough for the search for missing persons who, according to official sources, amounts to more than 80,000. Some organisations point out that it even may exceed 200,000 people. Colombia is the country with the most forcibly disappeared persons in South America, surpassing the victims registered during the dictatorships in Chile and Argentina.

The search for disappeared persons is complex due, among other factors, to the length of the Colombian conflict. One of the common techniques of enforced disappearances in Colombia was to throw the body into rivers. The organisation EQUITAS, formed by a team of women scientists, is applying a pioneering technique to locate bodies at the bottom of rivers. Diana Arango, the Director of EQUITAS, explains the importance of continuing the search. "It is impossible to have a peaceful society if these facts are not clarified and without telling relatives where their disappeared are. People have a right to the truth," she says.

PAKISTAN

More than 7000 missing persons

"We will welcome the new law that is currently being discussed in the Parliament of Pakistan, if it is enacted in such ways so it curbs the menace of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, where no one in history has been held accountable". Ali Palh, Coordinator of Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network, on the coming law against enforced disappearances in Pakistan

Enforced disappearance is a prevalent human rights issue in Pakistan. Since 2011, more than more than 7000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been reported in Pakistan, but the real number might be much higher. One of the NHRF’s grantees in Pakistan, the Sindh Human Rights Defenders Network (SHRDN), is a network of individual defenders and civil society organisations working to collectively improve the security of defenders protecting and promoting human rights in Sindh province in Pakistan. The network coordinates legal aid and support in times of need to victims of enforced disappearance, torture and illegal detention. Coordinator of SHRDN and lawyer Ali Palh files petitions for the release of missing persons and sees a renewed hope that the issue would finally get resolved: "We will welcome the new law that is currently being discussed in the Parliament of Pakistan, if it is enacted in such ways so it curbs the menace of enforced disappearances in Pakistan, where no one in history has been held accountable". Between 2019 and 2020, SRHDN helped around 22 families of missing human rights defenders to file their cases to the court and did advocacy work for their return.

Read more about enforced disappearances in Pakistan in this blog.

INDONESIA

Returning the victims to their families

By the help of organisations like IKOHI, around 80 children have been reunited with their families so far, and the search for the disappeared continues.

Many enforced disappearances have occurred in Indonesia since the massacre in 1965-1966, such as the targeting of separatist groups in Timor-Leste, Aceh and West Papua, and against students in 1997-1998.

The Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared (IKOHI) has documented the stories of disappeared children, worked on building public awareness about them, facilitated community meetings and workshops for survivors to empower themselves mutually. Through a regional network, IKOHI has advocated for the Indonesian government to do policy changes to recognise the victims’ rights and redress the human rights violations. By the help of organisations like IKOHI, around 80 children have been reunited with their families so far, and the search for the disappeared continues.

Zaenal Muttaqin, Secretary General of IKOHI, indicates that there are still many people to be found. "This is truly great humanitarian work. It goes beyond ideology, politics and national borders. In the end, the truth will continue to live, and justice will continue to be fought” he says. He goes on to explain the need to keep searching:

"Enforced disappearances is a continuous crime. Families, mothers, daughters of victims, so we must continue to assist them to find and return them under any circumstance. Stop enforced disappearances in the world!” Zaenal Muttaqin, Secretary General of IKOHI

Watch the video where NHRF's grantees are addressing enforced disappearances below:

Main photo: During a protest against enforced disappearances in Pakistan. Photo by Zulfiqar Shah.

Other photos by: EQUITAS ; Zulfiqar Shah; IKOHI.