Unique online resource provides those litigating enforced disappearance with global perspective

30 August 2023
Unique online resource provides those litigating enforced disappearance with global perspective

A newly-expanded online legal database provides case law and legal standards from around the world for lawyers litigating cases involving enforced disappearances.

For some, enforced disappearance (ED) might sound like a relic of Latin America in the 1970s. Sadly, though, the practice of states ‘disappearing’ opponents or vulnerable minorities remains a global problem. Since 1980, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has transmitted cases relating to 112 States, confirming the prevalence of this crime.

Lawyers litigating ED at the domestic level often find it hard to locate case law from other jurisdictions, and to navigate the jurisprudence of the mechanisms that consider these cases.

A newly-expanded online resource, the Enforced Disappearance Legal Database (EDLD) addresses these challenges by drawing together domestic, regional and international case law as well as a full range of legal standards. Users can undertake targeted legal research and comparative analysis, and explore issues arising under the normative framework of the offence of enforced disappearance.

Jessica Gavron, Co-Director of the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre (EHRAC), which has developed the database, said: “As human rights lawyers, we know the importance of drawing on case law from other jurisdictions to make progressive arguments. For all lawyers, including those working in the national courts, it’s also important to reference international standards, and to understand the threshold we need to reach to secure a positive judgment.

“Enforced disappearance is a systemic issue for many, in our region and around the world. We hope the new, expanded EDLD will help all those seeking justice and accountability for the families of the disappeared.”

The EDLD originally launched in August 2022, the result of a two-year research project completed with input from domestic and international legal experts.

The revised database, launched today to mark the UN International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance, has been expanded to include nearly 200 case summaries, drawn from the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights, UN treaty bodies, and a number of domestic courts. The resource is available in English, Spanish, French and Russian.

The updated EDLD also provides international standards on enforced disappearances as set out in international humanitarian law and international criminal law, in addition to the previously-available information on international and regional human rights systems.

The database – the first and only resource of its kind for those seeking to litigate cases involving enforced disappearance – grew out of EHRAC’s own experiences. The independent human rights centre, based in London, works with partners in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine to challenge serious human rights violations. It was established in 2003, to litigate violations resulting from the second Russian-Chechen War. In the two decades since, the Centre has worked on over 100 cases involving ED before the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID).

Jessica Gavron: “Our journey with these cases has been a journey of learning, particularly in relation to the families of the disappeared. We found that we’d get a judgment, we’d secure compensation, but the families remain in this limbo of unknowing – the ongoing inaction of the state responsible might mean they never learn the fate of their relatives.

“The passage of time and the lack of meaningful progress mean you have to go back to the applicants and ask again what they want to do. With their support and consent, we have sent many of our unimplemented cases from the European Court to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, for consideration by a further international body. By this point, the main priority of the applicants is to pursue humanitarian resolution – they want to know the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones in order to have closure.

“Given our experience, we thought it would be valuable to pool what we have learned, to create a database that would help others and connect those working on ED in different regions.”

EHRAC continues to work with its partners to litigate cases involving enforced disappearance.

Jessica Gavron: “ED is an ongoing issue for Russia. What was once a tool of war perpetrated by State Security forces during the two Russian-Chechen wars, is now being used by local law enforcement, to ‘cleanse’ minority groups and dissenters. More recently, we’ve seen the disappearance and torture of members of the LGBT community in Chechnya. The horrendous practice of ED has trickled down into ordinary policing tactics and at the same time been exported to Ukraine, where since 2014, Russia has used ED to target dissenters and members of marginalised groups, including Crimean Tatars, broadening the target group after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.”

“So, for EHRAC, ED is still a live issue, because many of our cases stemming from the second Russian-Chechen war remain unresolved for the applicants and because the practice of enforced disappearance is continuing and broadening in its application.”