International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances
Today, 30 August, marks the UN International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. In recognition of the challenges that victims of enforced disappearance and their families face, Lawyers for Lawyers would like to draw attention to the cases of disappeared lawyers Ali Jasseb Hattab Al-Heliji, Gao Zhisheng, Razan Zeitouneh, Khalil Ma’touq and Somchai Neelapaijit.
Under international human rights law, enforced disappearance is considered to be a continuing crime until the fate and whereabouts of a disappeared person are disclosed or otherwise become known. The families of the victims have the right to demand reparations and to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones. On 21 December 2010, the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern about the increase of enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world in the resolution 65/209 and welcomed the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Ali Jasseb Hattab Al-Heliji
On 8 October 2019 Ali Jasseb Hattab Al-Heliji was reportedly kidnapped from his car by armed men in a central area of the Ammarahin al-Mayssan governate, Iraq. Mr. Al-Heliji is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Advocates for the Protesters Rights Commission. He advocates for the rights of political prisoners and against violations committed by the government. It was reported that the armed men targeted Mr. Al-Heliji because of his representation of protesters and for speaking out on social about violations that were committed against protesters. Mr. Al-Heliji reportedly already received death threats in connection to his social media posts before his abduction. Almost a year after his disappearance, his whereabouts remain unknown.
Three years ago the brother of prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zisheng went to his home only to discover him gone. Gao disappeared after living under surveillance for three years following his release from prison in 2014. Sometime after his disappearance, Beijing officials claimed they had him in secret custody, but this claim has not been verified. Gao’s family has not been informed about where he is being held, and he has not been allowed to consult with lawyers. As a lawyer Gao Zhisheng stood up for the rights of minorities like Falung Gong and was arrested multiple times because of his work.
Razan Zaitouneh is a prominent Syrian human rights lawyer, activist, and journalist. Razan dedicated her life to defending political prisoners, documenting crimes against humanity, and helping others free themselves from oppression. She is co-founder of the Local Coordination Committees in Syria and the Violations Documentation Center, which documents human rights violations in Syria. Together with her husband and two colleagues, Razan Zaitouneh disappeared on 9 December 2013 in Douma, after a group of armed men stormed the office of the Violations Documentation Center. Since then, no one has heard from them.
Khalil Ma’touq, director of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, is a human rights lawyer who has been defending peaceful activists for more than 20 years. He and his colleague and assistant Mohammed Zaza have been missing since October 2, 2012, when they were en route from Ma’touq’s home in Sahanaya, a Damascus suburb, to his office in Damascus. It is believed that they were arrested at a government security checkpoint. The exact reasons for the arrest are unknown, but there is reason to believe their arrest is connected to their legitimate and peaceful work in human rights.
Sixteen years ago, Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit disappeared and he is currently still missing. Somchai disappeared on 12 March 2004, one day after he had publicly accused the police of torturing his clients, who were in detention in the South of Thailand. Since then, nothing has been heard of him. Until now, no perpetrators have been held accountable for his disappearance.
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