ON International Day in Support of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls for a full stop to the egregious crime of enforced disappearances in Zimbabwe.
ZLHR calls upon the public to remember and reflect on the lives of victims and survivors of enforced disappearances as well as the families of the victims and the communities which are disrupted by this gross violation of human rights.
International Day in Support of Victims of Enforced Disappearances is commemorated annually on 30 August in order to reflect on the fate and lives of all victims of enforced disappearances across the globe. It is an opportunity for citizens all over the world to lobby their respective governments to desist from the practice of enforced disappearances.
According to the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, an enforced disappearance is the abduction, arrest and detention of a person against their will by government officials or individuals acting on behalf of the government. An enforced disappearance also occurs when the government directly or indirectly consents or acquiesces to the abduction, arrest or detention of persons by private individuals. An enforced disappearance is usually followed by the state’s refusal to disclose the whereabouts of the disappeared persons or a refusal to acknowledge the disappearance. This refusal to acknowledge the disappearances effectively deprives the disappeared any protection of the law.
International law considers an enforced disappearance to be a gross violation of human rights and a crime against humanity, especially when it is committed as part of an organised plan by ruling authorities. The victims of enforced disappearances are often deprived of their fundamental human rights by their captors. Such fundamental rights include the right to human dignity, right to personal liberty and security of the person, the right to health, the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the right to life, in circumstances where the victims are killed by their captors.
International law obliges all States, including Zimbabwe, to protect and uphold everyone’s fundamental rights. States will, therefore, be in flagrant violation of international law in circumstances where they commit, support or acquiesce to enforced disappearances.
Enforced disappearances also adversely affect the families and friends of the victims, who often worry about the predicament of their disappeared loved ones. The families and friends of the victims usually go on for years without knowing the fate of victims and they seldom obtain the help they need from authorities when they search for answers about the disappeared persons.
In Zimbabwe, there has been a worrying pattern of enforced disappearances. The victims of enforced disappearances in the country have often been human rights defenders, community activists, members of opposition political parties and journalists. On many occasions, the victims are abducted by suspected state agents and held incommunicado. Some of the victims have not been found to this day and their fate remains uncertain. Government has often refused to acknowledge the disappearances and even dismissed them as staged events.
On International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, ZLHR calls upon governments to end the culture of impunity in cases of enforced disappearances perpetrated by state actors or their agents. ZLHR urges the authorities to seriously consider and investigate all reports of enforced disappearances, in line with their constitutional obligation to uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens.
In particular, the authorities have an obligation to uphold everyone’s right not to be deprived of one’s liberty without just cause, in terms of section 49(1) of the Constitution. Moreover, the Constitution also obliges government to protect and uphold everyone’s right to human dignity and right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as provided in section 51 and section 53 of the Constitution respectively.
The Zimbabwean government must also take necessary action to ratify the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Ratification of this Convention is one of the recommendations that has been made to Zimbabwe by United Nations member states, during the review of Zimbabwe’s human rights record following the Human Rights Council-led, Universal Periodic Review mechanism. This recommendation has been made by United Nations members such as Costa Rica, Netherlands, Senegal and Djibouti. Regrettably, the government of Zimbabwe has merely noted this recommendation and not committed to take it up.
On International Day in Support of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, ZLHR calls upon;
· Members of the public to demand an end to enforced disappearances by state actors and their agents;
· The public to remember and reflect on the lives of victims of enforced disappearances, the families of the victims and the communities which are disrupted by this gross violation of human rights;
· The Zimbabwean authorities to cease and desist from the practice of enforced disappearances;
· The authorities to seriously consider and investigate all reports of enforced disappearances across the country;
· The authorities to comply with their obligations, under the Constitution and international law, by holding all perpetrators of enforced disappearances accountable for their despicable crimes.
· The government of Zimbabwe to ratify and domesticate the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.