UN Warning That Extraterritorial Abductions by States, Like Khashoggi's Disappearance, on the Rise

An exile Tibetan walks past a wall covered with posters of Tibetans missing in Tibet as exiles mark International Day in Support of Victims of Enforced Disappearances in Dharmsala, India, on Aug. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Ashwini Bhatia)

The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances stressed that the case of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he is believed to have been tortured and killed, is one of a rising number of extraterritorial abductions by states.


At the UN General Assembly on Thursday, working group chairman Bernard Duhaime, a Canadian law professor, stated that “whether it is used to repress political dissent, combat organized crime, or allegedly fight terrorism, when resorting to enforced disappearance states are actually perpetrating a crime and an offense to human dignity.”

“Short-term disappearances,” which have been of special concern to the working group lately, are often used “to extract evidence and finalize the investigation outside the protection of the law and often resorting to coercion, if not torture.”

“Now we are witnessing with outmost concern a new and very worrisome practice of the extraterritorial abductions of individuals in foreign countries through undercover operations,” Duhaime said, describing abductions conducted “with or without the acquiescence of the host state, and while in most cases the victims reappear in detention after a short period, in other cases they remain disappeared” — like Khashoggi.

Speaking for the U.S. at the UN session, advisor Lindsey Whitehead said the U.S. “remains concerned about enforced disappearances in the Crimean peninsula, where Russian occupation authorities have made no efforts to investigate dozens of enforced disappearances of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian activists since 2014” as well as an estimated 85,000 enforced disappearances in Syria and more than 500 reported enforced disappearances in Nicaragua since April.


“The Iranian government bears responsibility for the enforced disappearances of its citizens as well as foreign and dual nationals. The U.S. urges the regime to provide information on individuals it has detained and to immediately release those unjustly imprisoned,” Whitehead added.

The U.S. is also “deeply alarmed by the enforced disappearances of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other members of minority Muslim groups to re-education camps in Xinjiang” and “urges these governments to investigate cases and ensure that their population is afforded the rights they are entitled to under domestic and international laws.”

The working group’s last annual report outlined 820 new known cases of enforced disappearances from May 2017 to May 2018.

In an Oct. 9 statement, Duhaime said an “independent international investigation must immediately be launched” into Khashoggi’s disappearance. “Those responsible – perpetrators and masterminds – should be identified and brought to justice,” he said along with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, and the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard.


“We are concerned that the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi is directly linked to his criticism of Saudi policies in recent years,” they added. “We reiterate our repeated calls on the Saudi authorities to open the space for the exercise of fundamental rights, including the right to life and of expression and dissent.”


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