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.


Supporting California's Call to go "Conflict-Free"

Last year, President Obama signed into law the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Buried within the Act is a provision that addresses an ongoing activity at the intersection of business and human rights: the mining of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Section 1502, or the Conflict Minerals provision, essentially requires publicly traded companies to submit annual reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing whether their products contain minerals from Congo or adjacent countries. If so, these companies must explain the actions taken to trace the origin of the minerals and whether they come from mines that help fund armed conflict.  While the Commission is still working out the rules pertaining to how exactly this gets done, the provision itself has received strong support.

Here’s why such disclosure and due diligence are necessary: armed groups perpetrating the violence finance themselves through trade in four main minerals – tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold.  These minerals are turned into metals that are then sold on to be used in the very mobile phones and laptops you are using now.  If we as consumers knew which products contained the minerals from these mines, we could use our purchasing power as a force for change.


Mass Rapes in Congo Must Be Stopped

Today the BBC reported that a Congolese army commander led an attack that saw up to 50 women raped over the new year in Fizi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This devastating report comes on the heels of another account of mass rape in the DRC last summer.  The need to end impunity in the Congo has never been more urgent.

The Fizi events are another telling example of the consequences of the virtual impunity the Congolese forces benefit from. The failure to hold the Congolese army to account when they fail to carry out their protection role or commit crimes themselves in turn encourages further violations.

Amnesty International welcomes the initial commitment shown by the Congolese authorities to ensure that those responsible for these recent violations are held to account – notably the arrest of 12 officers of the 43rd sector of Amani Leo and initial investigations by the Military Prosecutor of South Kivu. Such steps must however be taken forward – more often than not investigations in the DRC are never brought to a conclusion. A recent example of this is the investigation into the mass rapes that occurred in Walikale, North Kivu, in August 2010 which have now stalled.

The Congolese authorities must ensure that those responsible for these violations are held to account- through thorough investigations and free and fair trials. No one, regardless of their status, should be above the law.

Join us in calling for justice for survivors of sexual violence in the DRC.

I will not be safe until all Congolese women are safe

We wanted to share with you this beautiful letter women’s rights advocate from the Democratic Republic of Congo Justine Masika Bihamba sent out to Amnesty members yesterday during our annual pledge drive.  We hope you are as inspired by her words as we are.

Justine Masika Bihamba visits Amnesty USA headquarters in September 2010.

Amnesty International refuses to forget me.

In 2007, armed soldiers broke into my house in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), held my children hostage and assaulted two of them. They did this not to rob my family, but to punish me for providing services to women who are sexually assaulted.

Despite my having identified the attackers to the police, no action has been taken against them.  I continue to face threats because I refuse to stop fighting for women’s rights.

Amnesty International members have sent thousands of letters to the president of the DRC urging him to investigate the attack on my family, including the sexual assault of my daughter.  Members have also sent me numerous letters of solidarity, inspiring me to continue my work to eradicate sexual violence.

Join Amnesty International today to ensure their work in all areas of the world continues. If you donate by September 30th, a generous donor will match your gift, dollar-for-dollar.

Congolese women who defend human rights have paid a heavy price for their actions. Many have been murdered, arrested, intimidated, threatened, tortured or disappeared. Others have been forced from their homes, their cities and their country to save their lives. Family members have also been harassed, intimidated and held against their will.

I will not be safe until all Congolese women are safe. Amnesty International understands that building international solidarity for women’s rights is essential to bring change to the DRC.

Amnesty is a driving force behind the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which aims to revolutionize the way U.S. foreign policy confronts abuses like domestic violence, rape, honor killings and human trafficking worldwide. If passed, IVAWA will support measures to prevent violence and bring perpetrators to justice. It could help people like me assist survivors around the world.

It is Amnesty International’s commitment to fighting human rights violations everywhere that inspires me to pass on the candle to you.

Stand with me in support of Amnesty.


Justine Masika Bihamba