Families of ‘disappeared’ from the North Caucasus appeal to the UN for answers

Published: 9 Jan 2018

It is everyone’s worst nightmare – the disappearance of a family member. We would expect the police to help find them. But what if they were ‘disappeared’ by the State authorities themselves? Who can families rely on?

Photos of the disappeared, collected by Mothers of Chechnya

In the North Caucasus region of Russia, hundreds of people – predominantly young men –disappeared between 1999 and 2006, and have never been seen again. The European Court of Human Rights has found in 250 judgments concerning the fate of nearly 300 disappeared individuals that the Russian security forces were  responsible. But more than a decade on from the disappearances in question and the families of ‘the disappeared’ have still never received meaningful information about their relatives’ fate, and therefore live in a limbo, not knowing for sure if their loved ones are alive or dead.

This is why EHRAC (based at Middlesex University, London), Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow) and the Stichting Justice Initiative (SJI, Moscow) have made a submission (known as a General Allegation) about Russia’s persistent failure to investigate these disappearances to  the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID, see below).

We request that the WGEID seek information from the Russian Government about the fate of the disappeared individuals and the steps which have taken to resolve these cases, as well as  future plans to locate and identify deceased individuals, and to inform families of their relatives’ fates.

Why?

“The families whom we represent want to know the fate of their loved ones.  Without that information, they are constantly tormented by the uncertainty of what has happened and the possibility that their family member may be alive somewhere, injured or suffering, and in need of help. There is no doubt that these families have a legal right to that information and we hope that the WGEID will assist in providing a long overdue resolution for these cases.” 

Joanna Evans, Legal Director, EHRAC

EHRAC, Memorial HRC and SJI have acted in approximately 80% of the 250 disappearance cases in which the European Court has held the Russian Government responsible for abducting and disappearing (predominantly) Chechen men during the years 1999-2006.  Although the Russian Government has paid the compensation awarded by the Court to families, nothing has been done to address the systemic failure to investigate the abductions in question or to provide the families with information about what has happened to their loved ones. Despite a decade of supervision by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers (the body charged with monitoring cases after a judgment has been delivered), families still do not know if their relative is alive or dead, or the details of who is responsible for their disappearance.

What is the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID)?
The WGEID assists families in determining the fate or whereabouts of family members who have disappeared. Families usually turn to the WGEID when attempts to determine the fate of their loved one within their own country has failed and the WGEID then serves as a channel of communication between family members and the authorities until the fate or whereabouts of the person concerned is determined.
The WGEID is also mandated to monitor states’ adherence to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances 1992, and to provide governments with assistance in implementing it.
What is an enforced disappearance?
An enforced disappearance is the arrest, detention or abduction of an individual by state authorities 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. The Declaration states that there is no justification for enforced disappearances.
What is a General Allegation?
A General Allegation to the WGEID argues that there is an “existing obstacle” to the implementation of the Declaration. It is usually submitted by relatives of a disappeared person in conjunction with an NGO. Upon receipt of a General Allegation the WGEID may transmit the information contained within it to the State in question and request answers to specific questions.