ON International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls upon Zimbabwean authorities to publicly denounce and desist from the practice of enforced disappearances.
In addition, ZLHR demands that authorities swiftly respond and investigate all reports of enforced disappearances and prosecute the perpetrators.
International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is observed every year on 30 August in order to draw attention to the detestable practice of enforced disappearances by governments all around the world.
An enforced disappearance can be defined as any arrest, abduction or detention against one’s will that is orchestrated by or endorsed by a government official or officials, its representatives or its supporters. Significantly, the United Nations General Assembly has declared that systematic enforced disappearances amount to crimes against humanity.
An element of enforced disappearances is that the responsible government refuses to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned. This effectively places the disappeared outside the protection of the law and renders them extremely vulnerable to gross human rights violations at the hands of their captors.
The rights that are typically affected when a person is disappeared include the right to liberty and security of the person, the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to human dignity, the right to health and the right to life, when the disappeared person is murdered. The adverse effects of an enforced disappearance extend to the victim’s relatives and friends in the form of psychological trauma and the deprivation of a source of economic livelihood, where the disappeared person was the breadwinner of the family.
In Zimbabwe, enforced disappearances remain a scourge and a constant threat to the peaceful existence of certain groups of people in the country. In the recent past, the victims of enforced disappearances have included usually human rights defenders and members of opposition political parties.
The victims have been subjected to inhumane treatment at the hands of their captors and some of the victims remain missing to this day. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made it increasingly difficult for people to search for disappeared persons and for authorities to effectively investigate reports of enforced disappearances.
However, these challenges do not relieve the authorities of their obligation to investigate these disappearances. In these difficult times, it becomes more imperative for the authorities to react promptly to reports of enforced disappearances in order minimise the potential harm that the victims would be exposed to. In addition, the authorities are obliged to hold the perpetrators accountable for the disappearances through prosecutions.
On this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, ZLHR calls upon:
• The Zimbabwean authorities to publicly denounce and desist from the practice of enforced disappearances;
• The authorities to swiftly respond to all reports of enforced disappearances, with the aim of completely eradicating this despicable practice from society;
• Members of the public to join the rest of the world in demanding the prompt release of all victims and the prosecution of the perpetrators of the disappearances.