What do a prize-winning rural development expert from Laos, two Tibetan sisters, a Uyghur anthropologist and a Burmese monk have in common? They are all victims of enforced disappearance, taken against their will with their whereabouts unknown.
The United Nations and civic groups are marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances Wednesday with calls for an end to impunity for governments and non-state actors who have made hundreds of thousands of people in 85 countries disappear in conflicts and crackdowns.
“Enforced disappearance is a serious human rights violation that has frequently been used to spread terror,” the UN said in a statement. The Aug. 30 annual day marks the adoption in the 2006 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
“The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects their communities and society as a whole,” it added.
Of particular concern in the fight against enforced disappearances in 2023 are harassment of rights defenders, relatives of victims, witnesses and legal counsel; the use of counter-terrorist activities as an excuse for violations; and “widespread impunity” for perpetrators, the UN said.
The harassment, questionable terrorism accusations and impunity cited by the UN are recurring issues in Radio Free Asia reports on enforced disappearances in China, including Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as in Southeast Asia.
China, notably, has been condemned internationally for a mass internment program in which as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other mostly Muslim people were sent involuntarily to re-education camps. Subequent research by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found the inmates face torture, forced medication, and other abuses.
Tibetans say that in the last five years some 60 Tibetan political prisoners are said to have disappeared – many cut off from their families while enduring secret trials and sentencing hearings.