International Day of the Disappeared (August 30)

Terrible practice is still commonplace

On the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared (August 30), the Society for Threatened Peoples pointed out that tens of thousands of people from all over the world have become victims of this terrible practice. Apart from criminals, it is mainly authoritarian regimes that use this practice to get rid of people who advocate for the rights of their respective ethnic, religious, or linguistic minority group.

The “Saturday-Mothers”, for example, have been protesting – sitting cross-legged – in several Turkish cities since 1995, demanding information on the whereabouts of their children who were disappeared by the Turkish state between 1984 and 1999. Today, around 17,000 members of the Kurdish population of Turkey are said to be missing. “In the course of the rapprochement with the EU, this dark chapter in Turkey’s history was discussed briefly,” stated Dr. Kamal Sido, Middle East Consultant of the STP. “However, since Erdogan managed to consolidate his power after the failed coup attempt in 2016, the regime has been suppressing calls to bring light to the issue.” The Turkish army and its Islamist allies are also using the practice of disappearances in Syria. Around 7,000 people are missing in the Turkish-occupied regions – mostly members of Kurdish families. “In the Turkish-occupied regions, there is no rule of law whatsoever. Many families have given up asking about their missing family members – for fear of being killed or abducted themselves,” Sido added.

The practice of disappearances has also become a widespread phenomenon in Mexico. The number of officially registered cases has risen to approximately 100,000 – from around 5,000 in 2011. The number of unreported cases is probably huge. “The main reason for this enormous increase is to be seen in organized crime – often in cooperation with corrupt civil servants, or at least tolerated by them. More and more youths are among the victims,” stated Regina Sonk, STP expert on indigenous peoples. “In rural areas, the cartels are increasingly turning against members indigenous peoples. Thus, the indigenous rights activist Obtilia Eugenio Manuel was abducted in 2019. Unlike most victims, she was released after only a few days.” Only two to six percent of cases of disappearance are actually prosecuted. Also, the responsible authorities tend to fail completely when it comes to investigating cases in which administrative bodies and the military are involved.

In several countries of the African continent, there are frequent disappearances too. “The disappearances are not only conducted by armed militias such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, which are terrorizing several countries. The security forces and some of the governments are abducting people as well. Thus, civilians have to fear encroachments from different sides, and many live in fear for their loved ones,” stated Nadja Grossenbacher, STP expert on genocide prevention and the Responsibility to Protect. “No matter which group is behind the abduction – there is a high risk that the victims are abused, tortured, raped, or murdered.” In Kenia, for example, there are not only accusations against the anti-terror force of the ATPU, but also against the armed stately nature conservation authority Kenya Wildlife Service. “In especially conflict-ridden countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia, the problem is massive,” Grossenbacher emphasized.