Rule 98. Enforced Disappearance
Rule 98. Enforced disappearance is prohibited.
Summary
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
International and non-international armed conflicts
International humanitarian law treaties do not refer to the term “enforced disappearance” as such. However, enforced disappearance violates, or threatens to violate, a range of customary rules of international humanitarian law, most notably the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty (see Rule 99), the prohibition of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment (see Rule 90) and the prohibition of murder (see Rule 89). In addition, in international armed conflicts, the extensive requirements concerning registration, visits and transmission of information with respect to persons deprived of their liberty are aimed, inter alia, at preventing enforced disappearances (see Chapter 37). In non-international armed conflicts, parties are also required to take steps to prevent disappearances, including through the registration of persons deprived of their liberty (see Rule 123). This prohibition should also be viewed in the light of the rule requiring respect for family life (see Rule 105) and the rule that each party to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and to provide their family members with information it has on their fate (see Rule 117). The cumulative effect of these rules is that the phenomenon of “enforced disappearance” is prohibited by international humanitarian law.
Although the articulation of the prohibition of enforced disappearance in military manuals and national legislation is in its early stages, the prohibition is expressly provided for in the military manuals of Colombia, El Salvador, Indonesia and Peru.[1]  The legislation of many States also specifically prohibits this practice.[2] 
The 24th International Conference of the Red Cross in 1981 considered that enforced disappearances “imply violations of fundamental human rights such as the right to life, freedom and personal safety, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained, and the right to a just and public trial”.[3]  The 25th International Conference of the Red Cross in 1986 condemned “any act leading to the forced or involuntary disappearance of individuals or groups of individuals”.[4]  The Plan of Action for the years 2000–2003, adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999, requested all parties to an armed conflict to take effective measures to ensure that “strict orders are given to prevent all serious violations of international humanitarian law, including … enforced disappearances”.[5]  All these resolutions were adopted by consensus.
No official contrary practice was found in the sense that no State has claimed the right to enforce the disappearance of persons. In addition, alleged instances of enforced disappearances have generally been condemned by States and the United Nations. Disappearances during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, for example, were condemned in UN Security Council debates in 1995 by Botswana, Honduras and Indonesia.[6]  They were condemned in resolutions adopted by consensus by the UN Security Council and UN Commission on Human Rights.[7]  The UN General Assembly also condemned enforced disappearances in the former Yugoslavia in a resolution adopted in 1995.[8]  The General Assembly again condemned enforced disappearances in a resolution on Sudan adopted in 2000.[9] 
Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity.[10]  The Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons also prohibits enforced disappearance as “a grave and abominable offence against the inherent dignity of the human being” and states that it “violates numerous non-derogable and essential human rights”.[11]  The UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearance, adopted by consensus, specifies that enforced disappearance constitutes a violation of the right to recognition as a person before the law, the right to liberty and security of the person and the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and that it violates or constitutes a grave threat to the right to life.[12] 
It is significant that in the Kupreškić case in 2000, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found that enforced disappearance could be characterized as a crime against humanity, although it was not listed as such in the Tribunal’s Statute. The Tribunal took into account the fact that enforced disappearances consisted of the violation of several human rights and were prohibited under the UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearance and the Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons. It therefore decided that it fell into the category of “other inhumane acts” provided for in Article 5(i) of its Statute.[13] 
In addition, regional human rights bodies found in several cases that enforced disappearances violate several rights. For example, the Inter-American Commission and Court of Human Rights have found that enforced disappearances violate the right to liberty and security of person, the right to fair trial and the right to life.[14]  In addition, as stated in the UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearance, enforced disappearances inflict severe suffering, not only on the victims but also on their families.[15]  The UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have similarly found that the enforced disappearance of a close family member constitutes inhuman treatment of the next-of-kin.[16]  The UN Human Rights Committee also stressed in its General Comment on Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that the prohibition of abductions and unacknowledged detention were not subject to derogation and stated that “the absolute nature of these prohibitions, even in times of emergency, is justified by their status as norms of general international law”.[17]  It should therefore be noted that, although it is the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance that constitutes a crime against humanity, any enforced disappearance is a violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law.
There is extensive practice indicating that the prohibition of enforced disappearance encompasses a duty to investigate cases of alleged enforced disappearance.[18]  The duty to prevent enforced disappearances is further supported by the requirement to record the details of persons deprived of their liberty (see Rule 123).

[1] Colombia, Basic Military Manual (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 32, § 2385); El Salvador, Human Rights Charter of the Armed Forces (ibid., § 2386); Indonesia, Directive on Human Rights in Irian Jaya and Maluku (ibid., § 2387); Peru, Human Rights Charter of the Security Forces (ibid., § 2388).
[2] See, e.g., the legislation of Armenia (ibid., § 2389), Australia (ibid., § 2390), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 2391), Belarus (ibid., § 2392), Canada (ibid., § 2394), Congo (ibid., § 2395), El Salvador (ibid., § 2396), France (ibid., § 2397), Germany (ibid., § 2398), Mali (ibid., § 2399), Netherlands (ibid., § 2400), New Zealand (ibid., § 2402), Niger (ibid., § 2401), Paraguay (ibid., § 2404), Peru (ibid., § 2405) and United Kingdom (ibid., § 2407); see also the draft legislation of Burundi (ibid., § 2393), Nicaragua (ibid., § 2403) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 2406).
[3] 24th International Conference of the Red Cross, Res. II (ibid., § 2433).
[4] 25th International Conference of the Red Cross, Res. XIII (ibid., § 2434).
[5] 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. I (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 2436).
[6] See the statements of Botswana (ibid., § 2410), Honduras (ibid., § 2412) and Indonesia (ibid., § 2413).
[7] UN Security Council, Res. 1034 (ibid., § 2415); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/72 (ibid., § 2420) and Res. 1996/71 (ibid., § 2421).
[8] UN General Assembly, Res. 50/193 (ibid., § 2416). The resolution was adopted by 114 votes in favour, one against and 20 abstentions. However, the explanation of vote of the Russian Federation, which voted against the resolution, shows that it did not object to the principle of condemning forced disappearance but thought that the resolution was too one-sided. See the statement of the Russian Federation in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, UN Doc. A/C.3/50/SR.58, 14 December 1995, § 17.
[9] UN General Assembly, Res. 55/116 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 32, § 2417). The resolution was adopted by 85 votes in favour, 32 against and 49 abstentions. However, in explanations of vote given by Bangladesh, Canada, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Thailand and the United States, there is no indication that there was a disagreement on the principle which is under discussion here; see the explanations of vote of these States given in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, 10 October 2000, UN Doc. A/C.3/55/SR.55, 29 November 2000, § 138 (Canada), § 139 (United States), § 146 (Bangladesh), § 147 (Thailand) and § 148 (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya).
[10] ICC Statute, Article 7(1)(i) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 32, § 2372). Article 7(2)(i) (ibid., § 2374) defines enforced disappearance as “the arrest, detention or abduction of persons by, or with the authorization, support or acquiescence of, a State or a political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the fate or whereabouts of those persons, with the intention of removing them from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time”.
[11] Inter-American Convention on the Forced Disappearance of Persons, preamble (ibid., § 2371); see also UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 2001/46 (ibid., § 2422); World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (ibid., § 2435).
[12] UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearance, Article 1 (ibid., § 2379).
[13] ICTY, Kupreškić case, Judgment (ibid., § 2437).
[14] See, e.g., Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Case 9466 (Peru) (ibid., § 2446), Case 9786 (Peru) (ibid., § 2448) and Third report on the human rights situation in Colombia (ibid., § 2449) and Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez case (ibid., § 2450); see also African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Mouvement Burkinabé des Droits de l’Homme et des Peuples v. Burkina Faso (violation of the right to recognition before the law, right to freedom and security of person) (ibid., § 2441).
[15] UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearance, Article 1(2) (ibid., § 2379).
[16] UN Human Rights Committee, Quinteros v. Uruguay (ibid., § 2439), Lyashkevich v. Belarus (ibid., § 2440); European Court of Human Rights, Kurt v. Turkey (ibid., § 2442), Timurtas v. Turkey (ibid., § 2443) and Cyprus case (ibid., § 2444).
[17] UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 29 (Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) (ibid., § 2438).
[18] See, e.g., UN Declaration on Enforced Disappearance, Article 13 (ibid., § 2484); Inter-American Convention on the Enforced Disappearance of Persons, Article 12 (ibid., § 2481); the practice of Argentina (National Commission concerning Missing Persons) (ibid., § 2489), Chile (Special Panel) (ibid., § 2411), Croatia (Commission for Tracing Persons Missing in War Activities in the Republic of Croatia) ( ibid., § 2490), Philippines (Task Force on Involuntary Disappearances) (ibid., § 2492), Sri Lanka (Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearances of Persons in certain provinces) (ibid., § 2414), former Yugoslavia (Joint Commission to Trace Missing Persons and Mortal Remains) (ibid., § 2485) and Iraq, on the one hand, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom and United States, on the other hand (Tripartite Commission set up under the auspices of the ICRC) (ibid., § 2514); UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 6 (Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) (ibid., § 2504) and Quinteros v. Uruguay (ibid., § 2505); UN General Assembly, Res. 40/140 (ibid., § 2493); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 2001/46 (ibid., § 2495); 24th International Conference of the Red Cross, Res. II (ibid., § 2502); World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (ibid., § 2503); European Court of Human Rights, Kurt v. Turkey (ibid., § 2506), Timurtas v. Turkey (ibid., § 2507) and Cyprus case (ibid., § 2508); Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez case (ibid., § 2512).