States around the world must act urgently to investigate cases of enforced disappearances even during the pandemic and the search for the victims must continue without delay, said Professor Tae-Ung Baik, vice-chair of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances while addressing a virtual discussion yesterday.
The discussion was organised by Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), an international human rights coalition of organisations tackling the issue of enforced disappearances across Asia.
“Our working group’s position is very strong. No matter what, we cannot justify enforced disappearances. Enforced disappearances must remain strictly prohibited under any circumstances,” Prof Baik said.
“Many countries are not accepting the invitation request,” he said, adding that if a visit is not possible, they are reliant on that country’s civil society and non-governmental actors to help them intervene.
Khurram Parvez, chairperson of AFAD, noted that while denying requests for visits, these countries are also contesting elections to be seated at the UN Human Rights Council.
According to a report presented by the UN Working Group during the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council in September 2019, the Group had reiterated its request to visit Bangladesh, but the government is yet to respond favourably.
Bangladesh was elected member of HRC in 2018.
“Some governments are going back on the promises they have made. In Asia we have seen an aggravation of the situation. Victims are forgotten and families are waiting not knowing the fate of their loved ones,” said Prof Baik.
Brian Dooley, special advisor to the UN Special Rapporteur, said, “We’ve seen over the years it takes a lot of pressure internationally and nationally to get a real invitation issued. A rapporteur would make two country visits a year. The alternative is weaker — academic visits where special rapporteurs can go in, invited by a university.”
Adilur Rahman Khan, secretary of Odhikar Bangladesh added, “The whole of South Asia is in denial. The UN working group has wanted to visit but how many South Asian countries have allowed it?”
“It is a situation where everything is in a limbo. The wives are half-widows, the children cannot access resources. They move from door to door, from the offices of one agency to those of another,” he said.
Others who spoke included Ruth Llanos, president of The Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (Bolivia), Maria Adela Antokoletz, Mother’s Delegate Latin American Federation of Association for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (Argentina), Fatia Maulidiyanti executive coordinator of Kontras (Indonesia) and Nilda Lagman-Sevilla, co-chair of Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (Phillippines).