Prof. Ariel E Dulitzky (Argentina), Chair of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (2013-2015), addressed the third day of the Free Iran World Summit on July 3, 2023. The summit was under the title: Prosecute Iran’s Regime Leaders for Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide.
Ariel E Dulitzky: Every Single Enforced Disappearance Is A State Crime
The script of the full speech of Mr. Ariel E Dulitzky follows:
Thank you so much. I spoke in front of the UN General Assembly, I spoke in front of the Ambassador of Germany, my last speech as chair rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in front of the Human Rights Council, but I never spoke in front of such a committed public like this one, and I feel intimidated by that.
And I want to start with two numbers that we heard this afternoon. The first one is 30,000.
30,000 victims of the massacre. And I want to relate the 30,000 with the 30,000 disappearances in my country, in Argentina, during the dictatorship. 30,000 people disappeared in the dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Among those who disappeared were two of my cousins, Tilly and Moni. One disappeared in 1977, the other in 1976.
And as was already explained, in those years there was no UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances. In fact, the mothers and grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo pursued the creation of such a specialized procedure that was created in 1980.
In 1980, when the first thematic special procedure of the UN was created, the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances was known as the Argentine Working Group. And when the advocates, the Argentinian advocates, were trying to pursue the UN to create this working group, the ambassador of the military dictatorship was chasing those human rights advocates in the hallways of the United Nations. And their courage, similar to yours, was what led to the creation of that UN Working Group.
But let me tell you the other number that I want to share with you, 35. This year is the 35th anniversary of the 1988 massacre. Let me tell you what happened on the 35th anniversary of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.
1980, 35 years later, 2015. In 2015, this crazy person here, me, was the Chair Reporteur of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, the first Argentine to serve in that capacity. And we were able to meet, to celebrate the 35 years of existence of the Working Group in the former detention center in Argentina, the ESMA.
Five thousand people passed through there, most of them were tortured, and most of them were killed. And 35 years later, I was sitting there representing the United Nations on behalf of all the victims of Enforced Disappearances. So there is hope. There is hope. 35 years… keep us fighting.
Let me tell you that when we talk about disappearances, we don’t talk about your disappearances. We are not talking about their disappearances. We are talking about our disappearances. We are all responsible for the clarification of the disappearances of everybody.
What is a disappearance and why we, instead of talking about a massacre, we are talking about a disappearance? The disappearance is the deprivation of liberty by a state official, carried out by the denial, followed up by the denial of any information about the fate or whereabouts of the persons who disappear. That’s exactly what happened in the stories that we heard, in the stories that you shared with us, in the stories that were tried in the Norway [Swedish] case.
Most importantly, despite that I started with numbers, these are not numbers. These are real people. They were fathers and mothers. They were daughters and sons. They were wives and husbands. They were friends, as we heard. They all have hopes. They all have ideas. So when we repeat 30,000 people, remember the 30,000 individuals who disappear and their own humanity.
Let’s start with the definition of enforced disappearance. Every single enforced disappearance is a state crime. Because it’s carried out by state officials. So when we are dealing with enforced disappearances, we are dealing with state crimes.
Let me tell you that many times when we have to talk about enforced disappearances, they tell us that the disappearances are a question of the past. They are a question about the dictatorships in the southern corner of Latin America, or they are about those who disappeared in 1988.
Well, no. The disappearance, an enforced disappearance, is a question of the present, for two reasons.
The first one, and most important, for all of you, for all the relatives of the persons who disappeared in 1988, enforced disappearance is a continuous crime. It continues until the fate and whereabouts of the person who disappeared are clarified until the families receive information on what happened with their loved ones until the bodies of those who disappeared are returned to their families so they can give a proper burial and they have a place where they can remember and pay their due respects. Until then, the crimes keep being committed every single day.
But secondly, it’s not a question of the past, because today, there are disappearances happening in different parts of the world. In fact, in my last speech, and probably the Ambassador remembers, I pointed to all the state representatives sitting there at the Human Rights Council and I said, I’ve been sitting here for three hours. In these three hours, at least ten people disappear in one of your countries, according to our own statistics.
So, while we are sitting here, your government or one government in the world is still carrying out disappearances. So it’s a question of the present also because of that because today we are still using enforced disappearances.
And we heard crimes against humanity and genocide. When the disappearance is committed in the context of a generalized attack against the civil population, that’s a crime against humanity. And I would consider that probably what happened in 1988 and for sure what happened during the military dictatorship in Argentina were crimes against humanity. And disappearances could also be part of a genocide.
Sadly, the international definition of genocide does not include political ideas or the persecution of people due to political ideas, but that does not preclude the possibility of considering other grounds to consider that the disappearances were part of a genocide. But regardless if we define this as genocide or crimes against humanity, enforced disappearances are a technique of terror.
What the regimes intend to do when they practice disappearances is terrorize the civilian population. People and their relatives don’t know if their loved ones are alive or not, if they are being tortured or not if they go out and claim for the reappearance of their loved ones, they don’t know if they are putting their loved one at more risk or not, if they will hamper the possibilities of being released or not.
But also it terrorizes all their colleagues, members of the same political party, the same ethnic group, the same racial group that is being targeted by the regimes. And that’s what authorities pursue when using enforced disappearances.
And let me tell you, we have, and I use the number 30,000, but when we talk about enforced disappearances, the victims are many more. The victims are not only those who disappear. The victims are all of your relatives of those who disappear. Because according to international law, according to the International Convention on Enforced Disappearance, a victim is not only the person who disappears but everybody else who suffers harm due to a disappearance.
So, when we are talking about disappearances, we are talking about many more people than just those who disappear. And when we hear today about the right to truth, the prosecution of those responsible, that’s not something that is given to you. That’s a right that you have. It’s a right to achieve justice. It’s a right to have accountability. And in the cases of enforced disappearances, the investigation, the criminal investigation, and the investigation of the perpetrators should cover two things.
One is criminal responsibility, and we heard about the Norwegian [Swedish] case. That’s very important. But second, and probably more important, is investigating the fate and whereabouts of those who disappear. We need to know what happened and where they are. And that’s essential in the case of enforced disappearances.
And not only that, but the relative has a right to the truth, to know what happened, why it happened, who did it, why they did it, who ordered it, who covered up, and who provided all the elements to secure that that crime was perpetrated by the state.
And let me finish by saying that the international community has a role to play, a role to play to cooperate, a role to play to investigate, and a role to play to force any regime to investigate and bring closure to the relative of those who disappear.
And I will finish by remembering a writer, an Argentian writer, Julio Cortazar, who in the first seminar on enforced disappearances in 1980 said in a room full mainly of lawyers and diplomats, but also relatives of those who disappear, he said, we need to feel today in this room the silent presence of those who disappeared. They are interrogating us. They are asking us for solutions. And for me, the solution is what a mother of a disappeared person in Pakistan told us. She asked us, the member of the UN group, what would you do if the person who disappeared was your daughter? That’s what we want the international community to do. What each of the diplomats, each of the governments, each of the presidents, and each of the ministers of foreign affairs could do if their daughter was the person who disappeared?
When everybody, in good faith, is able to answer that question, is when we will achieve accountability and overcome impunity. Thank you so much. Thank you.