Mourners carry photographs of loved ones who died or who disappeared on 12 November 1991 when the Indonesian military opened fire on a group of pro-independence supporters during a peaceful demonstration at the Santa Cruz Cemetery in Dili, Timor Leste. UNMIT Photo/Martine Perret
Some men arrive. They force their way into a family’s home, rich or poor, house, hovel or hut, in a city or in a village, anywhere. They come at any time of the day or night, usually in plain clothes, sometimes in uniform, always carrying weapons. Giving no reasons, producing no arrest warrant, frequently without saying who they are or on whose authority they are acting, they drag off one or more members of the family towards a car, using violence in the process if necessary.
This is often the first act in the drama of an enforced or involuntary disappearance, a particularly heinous violation of human rights and an international crime.
According to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/133 of 18 December 1992 as a body of principles for all States, an enforced disappearance occurs when:
“persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.”
Meticulous forensic work and DNA tests are required in order to identify remains in mass graves which may belong to victims of enforced disappearances. Credit: OHCHR