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Using Law against Enforced Disappearances

Ewoud Plate

February, 2010, Aim for human rights:

This manual is a collective work in progress. It draws its information not only from legal theory but also from evaluating the successes and challenges of actual legal actions undertaken by families of disappeared persons, their associations and NGOs around the world. The manual may be revised in the course of the coming years. The revisions will improve this manual as to include corrections, additions and practical information gathered from families of the desaparecidos and from the NGOs assisting them.

more informationTable of contents:

Preface And Introduction

How To Use This Manual


Part I The Legal Dimensions Of Enforced Disappearances

Introduction to Part I

Chapter 1 – When Someone Disappears - Different Kinds Of Disappearances


1. Examples Of Situations in Which Persons Disappear

2. No Information, Many Concerns

3. Four Categories Of Disappearances

4. The Question On How To Distinguish Between Categories Of Disappearances

Table 1 – Categories And Dimensions Of Disappearances

5. Three Legal Dimensions Of Disappearances

Chapter 2 – What Is An Enforced Disappearance?


1. Describing The Phenomenon: The “Features” Of An Enforced Disappearance

2. Legal Definitions

3. A Closer Look At The Three Constitutive Elements Of The Definition

4. More Legal Characteristics Of An Enforced

5. The Three Dimensions And The Different Ways To Define The Phenomenon

6. Using The Definitions Of Enforced Disappearance

Part II Legal Framework For Protection From Enforced Disappearances

Introduction to Part II

Chapter 3 – State Obligations


1. How Should A State React To Enforced Disappearances?

2. Addressing Enforced Disappearances: From Moral Obligations To Concrete Measures

• The Normative Process

• The Acceptance Of Norms

• The Implementation Of Norms

3. Legal Protection From Enforced Disappearances:

How Much Progress Has Been Made So Far?

Annexe 1: Overview of the Main State Obligations

Chapter 4 – International Legal Instruments And Monitoring Mechanisms


1. Norms, Instruments And Bodies Of Law That Address Enforced Disappearances

• International Humanitarian Law And Enforced Disappearances

• International Criminal Law And Enforced Disappearances

• International Human Rights Law And Enforced Disappearances

2. Monitoring The Implementation Of Instruments

3. Monitoring Bodies And Mechanisms

4. Monitoring Mechanisms And The Three Dimensions Of Enforced Disappearances

5. Means And Methods Of Monitoring

Annexes To Part II

Annexe 2: Overview: All On One Page

Annexe 3: Means of Monitoring

Annexe 4: Legal Instruments and Mechanisms

Part III Legal Actions Against Enforced Disappearances

Introduction to Part III

Chapter 5 – Learning From Three Decades Of Legal Actions Against Disappearances


1. Experiences Of Families Of The Disappeared

2. Designing A Strategy

• Setting An Objective

• Analysing The Situation

• Deciding On An Action Plan

3. Tips For Designing And Implementing Strategies

4. Information: The Precondition Of Any Successful Action

• Documenting A Case

• Monitoring

Chapter 6 – Against The Suffering: Search, Relief And Prevention


1. To Conduct An Urgent Investigation To Find The Truth About The Fate / Whereabouts Of The Disappeared Person

2. Addressing The Humanitarian Needs Of Relatives Of The Disappeared

3. Prevention Of Enforced Disappearances

Chapter 7 – Against The Crime: Investigations, Trials And Sanctions


1. Understanding Criminal Processes (Principles, Main Terminology, Norms, And Procedures)

• Principles And Terminology

• Norms

• Criminal Procedures

2. The Role Of Victims In Criminal Proceedings And Possible Actions At The National Level

3. Impunity And Means To Combat It

4. Overview Of Opportunities For Bringing Perpetrators To Justice Within Another Jurisdiction

5. Appeal To Human Rights Mechanisms

Chapter 8 – Against The State: State Responsibility And Reparation


1. Actions To Determine State Responsibility In Individual Cases Of Enforced Disappearances

2. Raise Awareness About And Challenge The Failure Of A State To Comply With Its Obligation To Protect People From Enforced Disappearance In General

3. Protecting Victims, Witnesses And Lawyers



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