5 Things You Should Know About Enforced Disappearances

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Activists hold lighted candles during a vigil on International Day of the Disappeared in Sri Lanka, where some 12,000 complaints of enforced disappearances have been submitted to the U.N. since the 1980s (Photo Credit: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP/Getty Images).

Every year in dozens of countries around the world, thousands of men, women and children are detained by state authorities for no reason, never to be seen again. They are the “disappeared.” In 2012 alone, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries.

Here are five facts you should know on August 30, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

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Child Soldiers: Will the Real Obama Please Stand Up?

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

Child soldier with adults, Sanghe, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 2002.

By Angela T. Chang, Advocate, Crisis Prevention and Response Team, Amnesty International USA

When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery. When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family—girls my daughters’ age—runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery. It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.
– US President Barack Obama, September 2012

Despite these strong words by President Obama against the use and recruitment of child soldiers a few months ago, he got reprimanded earlier this week for falling flat in delivering on tangible actions to address this issue.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released a new report on Tuesday, calling out the U.S. and the Obama administration for failing to adhere to its international human rights obligations by continuing to waive sanctions on military assistance, per the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act, to countries that are known to recruit and use child soldiers – a clear violation of children’s rights and a war crime if the children are under the age of fifteen. Yes, you read that right. Seems confusing and backwards? That’s because it is.

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Finding the Disappeared

Gao Zhisheng with his family.

Disappeared human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng with his family. © AI

On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared.  We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of  the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances.  Here’s how you can join us:

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Remembering The Disappeared

Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law.  And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.

Sandya Eknaligoda

Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2011

An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.

Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea.  In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island.  One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.

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Activists Rally In DC For Human Rights

By Dana Watters, Amnesty Get On The Bus Volunteer

Even at nine in the morning on a Friday, when most of us would normally be counting down to the weekend, the energy in the Foundry in Washington, DC is phenomenal. In the sunshine outside, groups color flags in support of Filep Karma, while inside roses and key actions are passed around for signatures. Larry Cox hasn’t even arrived yet, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement.

By the time everyone has settled inside for the opening speeches, the count is well over one hundred Amnesty International activists. The various speakers infect the crowd with even more passion and anticipation, reaching a pinnacle when Larry announces that he has decided that joining us for Get on the Bus is more important than going home to meet with the IRS.

The group splits, half heading to demonstrate for the Women of Zimbabwe (WoZA) at the Zimbabwe Embassy and half for Walid Yunis Ahmad at the Iraqi Consulate. We march in long ovals, chanting and holding our signs, the very picture of peaceful protest. At the Iraqi Consulate, faces peer out from the windows and passers by stop to watch.

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A Compromised Future for Children in Chad

By Christian Mukosa, Researcher at Amnesty International

Some former child soliders have depicted their experiences of conflict in art © Amnesty International

Rawan is just 13 years old, though he looks older. He was not even 11 when he left his home and became a child soldier. He – and the 40 other boys who talked to us about their experiences – are living proof of the use of child soldiers in Chad.

Children are still being used by both the army and armed opposition groups. Thousands have joined up in recent years as the armed conflict between the Chadian army and rebel groups has intensified in the region and the Darfur conflict over the border in Sudan has engulfed eastern Chad.

Most child recruits are boys aged between 13 and 18, but some are as young as 10. Most receive military training, including weapons handling, and many are involved in combat. Hazam, who was 15 when he joined a rebel group, told us: “What was the most difficult was taking part in the fighting. Many of us were my age. There is nothing joyful in the rebellion.”

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Time for Justice in Senegal

For more than 10 years, victims of former Chadian president Hissène Habré have been waiting for justice. Since he was chased from power in 1990, Habré has been living in Senegal, where, despite being charged by the Dakar regional court in 2000 for crimes against humanity, acts of torture and acts of barbarism, he continues to enjoy impunity for his crimes.

Habré’s role in the violation of human rights in Chad has been well documented. In 1992, a Truth Commission Report concluded that 40,000 political murders and 200,000 cases of torture occurred in Chad while Habré was president. And in 2005, Habré was indicted by a Belgian court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.

While Senegal has taken some very positive steps towards ensuring Habré will face trial, such as arresting him in 2005 and subsequently reforming its laws to remove any legal obstacles to his trial, the fact that his trial still hasn’t begun is unacceptable. Every month, new victims, or relatives of victims, die without having seen Habré brought to trial. But Senegal’s president Abdoulaye Wade keeps making excuses, claiming a lack of funds to start the trial and demanding that the international community finance the trial before it can start. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Chad Disregards Its Obligation to Arrest Al Bashir

Chad’s government seems to have misplaced its copy of the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, who was recently charged with the crime of genocide by the ICC, just spent the last two days in Chad, without the Chadian government lifting a finger to respect its obligations under the Rome Statute.

Chad ratified the Rome Statute in November 2006 – which means they have an obligation to arrest and surrender to the Court individuals like Al Bashir who have had warrants issued for their arrest by the ICC. But Chad’s government went as far as stating that, no, they did not have an obligation to arrest Al Bashir.

Presumably, Al Bashir was in Chad to discuss the agreement Sudan and Chad signed in January 2010 to normalize their relations while armed insurgencies continue to devastate eastern Chad and western Sudan. Chadian President Idriss Déby had gone to Khartoum in February to meet with Al Bashir, and several weeks later the two governments started to deploy a jointly-commanded military force along the border. But as we noted in our most recent report on Chad, fighting continues to erupt between the Chadian National Army and armed opposition groups. The situation across the border in Darfur remains extremely volatile, especially with the arrival of more than 1,000 new refugees in Chad in May 2010.

Between this refusal to arrest Al Bashir while he was in Chad and the government’s insistence that the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Chad, MINURCAT, withdraw before the end of the year, human rights are being threatened.

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Still more for us to do in Chad

An Amnesty research team is visiting Chad for the fourth time since 2006. This time the focus of inquiry will be on violence against women, general issues of insecurity, and new work on the recruitment of child soldiers. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, is reporting.  You can follow his blog here.

AI Canada's Secretary General Alex Neve reunites with village chief Abakar Yusuf

The last think I ever would have expected in an isolated corner of eastern Chad is a reunion!

This afternoon we made our way out to Koudigou, a camp near Goz Beida that is home to about 11,000 displaced Chadians, most of who have been there for close to four years now.  It was a bumpy, sandy track through rough terrain, making our way past sporadic groups of people coming and going with supplies of water and bundles of firewood and hay.  Also sharing the road were camels, donkeys, goats and sheep with occasional herds of cattle in the distance.  As has been the case throughout our time on the ground here in eastern Chad the sun was relentless and the heat suffocating.

Even before we had arrived a group of about 15 elders and leaders had gathered to meet with us.  We made our way into a small building that offered welcome shelter from the sun while still allowing a breeze to blow through.

We made our introductions and explained who we were, a bit about Amnesty International and the focus of our mission.  The first village chief to speak, Abakar Yusuf, then astonished me by saying he remembered me from when I was here in 2006 and had spent some time in and around the village of Adé, very near the Chad/Darfur border.  He reminded me that he had spoken with me about the very tragic death of his wife, who was shot and then thrown into their burning home when their village had come under attack by Janjawid militia.

I immediately remembered and even recognized him. I certainly recalled the heart-wrenching story of his wife’s death, which had only happened about two weeks before our arrival. In fact I recall that the report we published in January 2007 following that mission, includes an account of Abakar’s wife’s death, alongside Abakar’s photo.

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