August 30 is the International Day of the Disappeared. Enforced disappearances are a horrific crime where a government or its agents detain someone and then deny all knowledge of their whereabouts or fate. Once largely used by military dictatorships, they now occur in every region of the world and in a wide variety of contexts. Enforced disappearances are used to spread terror in society, often during periods of armed conflict or repression.
Amnesty International campaigns against enforced disappearances. We stand with the families of the disappeared in their quest to learn the fate of their loved ones. On this page, we provide some examples of enforced disappearances and opportunities for action on these cases. Read on, learn and join the fight for justice for the disappeared!
Amnesty International has estimated that there are 60,000 – 100,000 enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka in connection with internal armed conflicts over the past 40 years. One emblematic case is the disappeared journalist/cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda. He went missing after leaving work on January 24, 2010. Two days earlier, he had published an article critical of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Despite years of police investigations, the Sri Lankan government has not accounted for his fate. Please call on the government to conduct an effective investigation and bring to justice those responsible for his disappearance.
Khalil Maatouk, a human rights lawyer, went missing on October 2, 2012, as he was driving to work from his home in Sahnaya, in the suburbs of Damascus. Given Khalil’s work as a human rights lawyer and the fact that there are several government-controlled checkpoints on his usual route to his office in the city, his family was immediately concerned that he had been arrested by the security forces.
Since then, Khalil has been sighted by unofficial sources in different security branches, including State Security Branch 285 in Kafr Soussa, Damascus and a branch of Air Force Intelligence in Damascus. He was last seen in September 2013 at the notorious Palestine Branch 235 of Military Intelligence in Damascus. Since then, Khalil’s family has received no updates on his whereabouts.
Local human rights and civil society organizations estimate that approximately 1400 forced disappearances have taken place in Turkey since 1980. The Saturday Mothers have been protesting forced disappearances every Saturday in Galatasaray square in Istanbul since 1995, making them the longest sustained protest movement in Turkey. One of the cases they have highlighted is that of Hasan Gülünay. Gülünay was 32 years old when he was arrested in Istanbul on 20 July 1992. His family has not seen him since. Despite the fact that in 2016, the Turkish Constitutional Court stated that Gülünay’s case has not been sufficiently investigated by courts, his family still does not know whether he is alive, or where his remains lie. Yet, with the support of the Saturday Mothers, they have never given up searching for him.
Imagine if you were detained in an internment camp or sentenced to prison for years merely because of your ethnicity; traveling or living or studying abroad, the number of children you have, or your religion. That’s the reality for huge numbers of predominantly Muslim people – perhaps 1 million or more – detained in Xinjiang since 2017. Family members are often unable to obtain information about persons who have gone missing in Xinjiang and are presumed to be detained. Amnesty International has gathered evidence of crimes against humanity by Chinese authorities including imprisonment in violation of international law, torture, and persecution.
Idris Khattak, a Pakistani human rights defender and researcher on enforced disappearances for Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, was himself subjected to enforced disappearance by armed men on November 13, 2019. After an international outcry, the security agencies made the rare admission in June 2020 that he was in their custody. He is charged with espionage. However, his whereabouts remain unknown. Please call on the Prime Minister of Pakistan to release Idris Khattak, to disclose his whereabouts to his family, and to hold accountable those who abducted him.
Enforced disappearances have deep roots in Algeria. During the internal conflict of the 1990s, security forces and state-armed militias were responsible for enforced disappearances. Instead of investigating these crimes and bringing those responsible to justice, the Algerian authorities from 1999 onwards adopted a series of legislative measures which entrenched impunity and denied victims, survivors and families access to truth, justice and reparation. Based on its research since 1992, Amnesty International considers that these actions may have amounted to crimes against humanity, and calls on the Algerian authorities to repeal existing legal provisions which contribute to impunity and which criminalize public criticism of the conduct of security forces.