Dora Leonor Mesa, 13 May 2016
Guide for Members of Parliament No. 17-2009
This manual is the result of a collaboration between the Interparliamentary Union, a world-wide parliamentary organisation, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with the support of the International Red Cross Movement and the Luna Roja Media.
On all five continents, parents, brothers, spouses, are children are desperately seeking family members, about whom they have no news. Families and communities, who don’t know what has happened to their loved ones, cannot move on from the violence which has disrupted their lives.
When the armed forces in Latin American countries started their practice of making people disappear, as a tool of repression, they thought they had discovered the perfect crime. No victims, therefore no murderers, no crime.
The States: Responsible for finding a solution
In the first place, it’s the responsibility of State authorities to prevent people going missing and to find out where the people who have disappeared actually are.
A forced disappearance is a detention or kidnapping carried out by State officials, or people or groups acting with the authorisation, support, or acquiescence of the State, followed by the concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the missing person.
The Argentinian authors found precedents for people disappearing in Nazi practices during the Second World War, when seven thousand people were secretly shipped to Germany under the Nacht und Nebel decree (Night and Clouds), passed in 1941 by the Supreme Command of the German army.
Following Hitler’s orders, the Nazis resorted to making members of the opposition disappear so that they did not become martyrs in their home towns if they were tried in court and sentenced to death. The decree laid down that anyone could be detained on a simple suspicion, and “vanish.” In this way, it was not possible to obtain information about the status and whereabouts of the victims, and that’s how they tried to achieve an “effective intimidation” of the population, and of family members, as a result of the paralising terror which it would unleash.
The International Convention on Missing Persons (2007) is the first universal treaty to define and prohibit enforced disappearance. In order to fight against this brutal crime, the Convention sets out four main ideas:
- Combating impunity
- Victims’ rights
Fields of Action
To address missing persons’ problems, five fields of action were identified:
The prevention of disappearances includes, as a fundamental measure, respect for the right to exchange news
To find out what has happened to people who have gone missing. It is important to maintain vigilance, so that the issue of missing people is not forgotten at the national or international level.
Manage the information and records relating to people who have gone missing. The collection and interchange of information with all interested parties should be arranged and coordinated adequately and actively, to increase the efficiency of the measures adopted to clarify what has happened.
Deal with the bodies and information relating to those who have died.
Support missing persons’ families.
The Role of Members of Parliament
- To check whether their country has laws relating to missing persons and their families (these regulations may be found in a variety of laws).
- If there aren’t any, to propose that the necessary legislation be enacted.
- To confirm that the law in their country conforms with international humanitarian law and international law on human rights; if it does not, to not hesitate:
- To make contact with the appropriate authorities to obtain information;
- To prepare questions for the government;
- To open a parliamentary debate on the need for legislation to protect people against forced disappearances and to respect the rights of missing persons and their families;
- To iniciate a debate on the contents of appropriate legislation;
- To seek the advice of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other competent international organisations.
(1) Ana Lucrecia Molina Theissen (1988). Enforced disappearance of persons in Latin America.
(2) International Convention for the protection of all people against forced disappearance, 2006. Article 2.
(3)Amnesty International (1983) Disappearances. Editorial Fundamentos, Barcelona, p.8.
Translated by GH