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 Razan Zeitouneh, Somchai Neelapaijit, and Gao Zhisheng.
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.
Lawyers for Lawyers is currently monitoring the cases of multiple lawyers who have become victim to enforced disappearance.
Seventeen years ago, Thai human rights lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit disappeared and he is currently still missing. Until now, no perpetrators have been held accountable for his disappearance. 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.
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.
Four 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.
More Chinese lawyers have been enforced disappeared, under the name of ‘Residential Surveillance at an Undisclosed Location’ (RSDL). In 2018, UN experts identified RSDL as a form of enforced disappearance.
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