The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances: EIPR Calls on the Government to Sign and Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
At the seventh anniversary of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) calls on the Egyptian government to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (the international convention on enforced disappearances), to open an investigation into complaints of family members of the disappeared, to prevent enforced disappearances, and to combat impunity for the crime of enforced disappearance.
On 21 December 2010, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 65/209 declaring an international day for the support of victims of enforced disappearances on 30 August starting from 2011, after the international convention on enforced disappearances entered into force in the same month signed by eighty-seven States, and the ratification of twenty-one.
According to article 2 of the international convention on enforced disappearances:
“"enforced disappearance" is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
EIPR has previously issued a Q & A on enforced disappearance to clarify the confusion between the two notions; enforced disappearance and detention in isolation of the outside world.
It is precisely because enforced disappearances are characterized by secrecy (official denials) that documenting their occurrence is extremely difficult, yet one can point to a general climate allowing incidents of enforced disappearances to happen with a blanket of impunity during the last few years. Nonetheless, many NGOs and rights group in Egypt have recognized the importance of documenting disappearance even in face of all the obstacles. Cultivating an archive that traces one erasure after the other, as accurately as possible, becomes a critical tool in counteracting official denials.
Below is a summary of the necessary criteria that several human rights organizations have been using to identify enforced disappearance cases. The criteria are accompanied by a detailed documentation guide to ensure that gathered information and statistics are consistent with the theoretical underpinnings of this particular form of state violence—what makes enforced disappearances unique—that is, its politics of erasure and invisibilization.
- Enforced disappearances are considered as such only if perpetrated by state actors, or individuals/groups acting on behalf of, or with support, direct or indirect consent or acquiescence of any state authorities— whether it be the military, intelligence, state security, or police forces.
- The disappeared were held in an undisclosed location for a period exceeding 48 hours without referral to the Public Prosecution, and outside of the oversight of the judiciary.
- The authorities denied that the individual was in their custody when the family inquired about them. This is the ultimate factor that distinguishes enforced disappearances from other forms of state violence which may accompany it including unlawful and pretrial detention, torture, and state extra-judicial executions.
Documentation Guide: In order to ensure that all three of the above criteria are present when documenting cases of enforced disappearances, the following guide provides a set of steps and questions that researchers can follow while gathering testimonies from family and friends of the disappeared.
1-Initial Documentation Report: When someone reaches out to report an incident of enforced disappearance, researchers should ask the following questions to make certain that the three criteria, especially the third, are present in the case at hand. If any questions result in answers that indicate otherwise, the case should not be counted as an enforced disappearance, and be dealt with accordingly. In the case that the testimony does uphold the three criteria, the case should be filed into the enforced disappearance database. In case the researcher knew about a case of enforced disappearance, s/he should try to reach for the family of the disappeared to offer the necessary support.
- Name and Age of the person who has gone missing
- When and where the person was last seen?
- How long the person has been missing for?
- Does anyone have any information (speculated or certain) about who may have taken the person, whether the military, intelligence officers, national security, or police forces?
- Does anyone know anyone who may have been involved in taking the missing person?
- Was anything communicated during the process of taking the missed person; did the people taking the person say anything? Who, from the missing person’s friends/families/acquaintances/ or otherwise was present to relay this information?
- Did state officials attempt to communicate with the missing person or their family/friends before they went missing?
- Did the missing person’s family/friends asked about his/her whereabouts at the nearest police station? If so, where? And what happened?
- Were any formal complaints submitted concerning the disappearance of the person? Or an inquiry about his whereabouts at the prisons department at the ministry of interior?
Note: If the last two questions are met with confusion, or a ‘no,’ the researcher should be prepared to explain how to go about offering legal support, either by the organization s/he works in or by a partner organization that offers legal support.
2-Setting Up Follow-Ups: After completing the documentation questions, the researcher should ask the person with whom s/he is in contact whether or not they are comfortable with keeping their contact information (which can be anonymized only to include the phone-number and name of the missing person) in order for the researcher to follow-up on the case.
Follow-Up Documentation: The defining characteristic of enforced disappearance is the secrecy and uncertainty it is premised upon which suspends the family and friends of the disappeared into a temporal limbo with no end, except for the production of a body, dead or alive. In Egypt, the state subjects the bodies of the disappeared to a wide range of endings—sometimes discovered tortured but alive after a few weeks, sometimes found dead in a morgue after months, and other times still nowhere to be found or heard of after years.
Follow-Up Guide: In order to build an ongoing, up-to-date, archive of enforced disappearances in Egypt, the following guide is meant to provide researchers with a general set of questions to cover during follow-up interviews (via phone call/meetings in person) with people who have filed reports about missed persons in the past. The first follow-up interview should be conducted after two weeks from the initial reporting of the disappearance. After that, the researcher should conduct the second and all future follow-ups on a monthly basis, at the beginning of each month.
- Briefly Confirm Prior Documentation: Begin by briefly summarizing and confirming details of prior reports. If the person you are in touch with disputes any of the prior information or recalls anything differently, revisit the original documentation questions, and ask them anew, as needed while documenting the added information.
- Ask about anything new that may have happened since the last time you were in touch
- Have you received any new information about the missing person? If so, from whom and how?
- Does anyone have any new information (speculated or certain) about who may have taken the person, whether the military, intelligence officers, state security, or police forces?
- Does anyone know anything new about who may have been involved in taking the missing person?
- Did state officials attempt to communicate with the missing person or their family/friends since the person went missing?
- Did the missing person’s family/friends asked about his/her whereabouts at the nearest police station once again? If so, where? When? And what happened?
Set Up Follow-Ups: After completing the follow-up questions, the researcher should ask the person with whom s/he is in contact whether or not they are comfortable with keeping their contact information (which can be anonymized only to include the phone-number and name of the missing person) in order to continue following-up on the case on a monthly basis. The researcher should make it clear that the person can ask to be removed from the follow-up database whenever they want to be.