‘Zim authorities should denounce enforced disappearances’

ON International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances,
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls upon Zimbabwean
authorities to publicly denounce and desist from the practice of
enforced disappearances.

In addition, ZLHR demands that authorities swiftly respond and
investigate all reports of enforced disappearances and prosecute the
perpetrators.

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is
observed every year on 30 August in order to draw attention to the
detestable practice of enforced disappearances by governments all
around the world.

An enforced disappearance can be defined as any arrest, abduction or
detention against one’s will that is orchestrated by or endorsed by a
government official or officials, its representatives or its
supporters. Significantly, the United Nations General Assembly has
declared that systematic enforced disappearances amount to crimes
against humanity.

An element of enforced disappearances is that the responsible
government refuses to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or to
disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned. This
effectively places the disappeared outside the protection of the law
and renders them extremely vulnerable to gross human rights violations
at the hands of their captors. The rights that are typically affected
when a person is disappeared include the right to liberty and security
of the person, the right not to be subjected to torture and other
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to
human dignity, the right to health and the right to life, when the
disappeared person is murdered. The adverse effects of an enforced
disappearance extend to the victim’s relatives and friends in the form
of psychological trauma and the deprivation of a source of economic
livelihood, where the disappeared person was the breadwinner of the
family.

In Zimbabwe, enforced disappearances remain a scourge and a constant
threat to the peaceful existence of certain groups of people in the
country. In the recent past, the victims of enforced disappearances
have included usually human rights defenders and members of opposition
political parties. The victims have been subjected to inhumane
treatment at the hands of their captors and some of the victims remain
missing to this day. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made it
increasingly difficult for people to search for disappeared persons
and for authorities to effectively investigate reports of enforced
disappearances. However, these challenges do not relieve the
authorities of their obligation to investigate these disappearances.
In these difficult times, it becomes more imperative for the
authorities to react promptly to reports of enforced disappearances in
order minimise the potential harm that the victims would be exposed
to. In addition, the authorities are obliged to hold the perpetrators
accountable for the disappearances through prosecutions.

On this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances,
ZLHR calls upon:
• The Zimbabwean authorities to publicly denounce and desist from the
practice of enforced disappearances;
• The authorities to swiftly respond to all reports of enforced
disappearances, with the aim of completely eradicating this despicable
practice from society;
• Members of the public to join the rest of the world in demanding the
prompt release of all victims and the prosecution of the perpetrators
of the disappearances.