August 30, 2016
Each year since 2011, 30 August is observed as the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, meant to shed a light on the global problem of enforced or involuntary disappearances. Considered by many as one of the most severe human rights violations, enforced disappearances abuse several interconnected rights. Generally speaking, they violate “the right of any person not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, the right of victims to justice and to reparation” (ICCPED Preamble). They also violate various international human rights agreements and treaties, whose signatories are supposed to respect basic rights such as the right to personal security and dignity, the right to be free from arbitrary detention, the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the right to humane conditions of detention, and the right to a fair trial.
On this year’s International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, UNPO would like to draw particular attention to the case of the Arab Ahwazi in Iran, notably the fate of Mr Yousef Silavi, forcibly disappeared since late 2009. Mr Silavi, a 57-year-old retired technician, was last seen by a family friend in his home in Ahwaz on 6 November 2009. Even though a complaint was filed with the police in Ahwaz on 8 November 2009 and the police later claimed to have listed Mr. Silavi as a missing person, there has never been an adequate official investigation into his disappearance. Without having taken any action, the police closed the missing person’s report after six months, and continued to deny that Mr Silavi was arrested by government officials.
Ms Mona Silavi, spokeswoman for the Democratic Solidarity Party of Al-Ahwaz (DSPA) and daughter of Mr Silavi, states that her father was not politically active or an opponent of the Iranian government. According to her, her father was forcibly disappeared solely because of the political activities of the family’s relatives outside Iran. The Silavi family is one of the most prominent Arab families involved in promoting and preserving Ahwazi Arab culture, staring during the early years of the revolution in the 1980s. Ms Silavi’s late uncle, Mr Mansour Silawi Ahwazi, for instance was one of the founders of DSPA; his activism was enough reason for the Iranian regime to persecute and put the whole family under surveillance.
Ms Silavi is convinced that her father’s enforced disappearance was partly triggered by her own opposition activities, in particular those following the Ahwazi uprising in April 2005 and her subsequent activism while in Syria, which – prior to the Syrian civil war – was home to a significant exiled Ahwazi community. “I was even asked to cooperate with the Iranian government against Ahwazis in Damascus, but I refused. I was a human rights activist and was helping Ahwazi refugees who had fled Ahwaz to escape persecution and injustices”, Ms. Silavi recalls and adds that – even though the Iranian authorities deny any knowledge about her father’s disappearance and current whereabouts – evidence suggests that he was taken into Iranian custody. She states that she and her family “are holding the Iranian authorities responsible for whatever happens” to her father.
The case of Yousef Silavi has attracted international attention. In March 2014, the younger daughter of Mr Silavi met with Mr Ahmad Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, and his team in Rome. They referred the matter to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). The working group’s primary task is to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of family members who have been forcibly disappeared. In November 2014, the case of Mr Silavi was reported to the working group which then raised this case with the Iranian government and urged Tehran to carry out appropriate investigations in order to clarify the fate and whereabouts of Mr Silavi. On 28 April 2016, Amnesty International, together with Justice for Iran, issued an urgent action concerning the case of Mr Silavi. To date, the Iranian government has ignored all international appeals and refused to comment on the case.
Tragically, Mr Silavi is but one of hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances in Iran. At the moment, the number of outstanding cases of forcibly disappeared persons in the Islamic Republic of Iran stands at 522, according to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearences. Even though the regime in Tehran had previously agreed to representatives of WGEID visiting Iran and investigating this grave situation, the Iranian government later gave flimsy excuses to postpone the working group’s visit to the country.
Dr Karim Abdian, Executive Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization (AHRO), condemns the Iranian regime’s non-cooperation with the international community and urges the latter to exert more international pressure. “We need to pressure the regime to admit that imprisonment under secret or uncertain circumstances is a grave violation of human rights.” He adds that, “the government in Iran refuses to provide any information to us or the UN working groups. The families in Iran cannot obtain any information about the fate of their loved ones (…) due to the government seeking revenge and refusing to cooperate.” According to Mr Abdian, “this the most frustrating part of our job”.
However, there still is some reason for optimism. Mr Abdian reports that – at least in some cases – human rights activists were able to help families of forcibly disappeared by addressing their particular social, psychological and/or financial needs. “Hopefully, this year on 30 August (…) we can call on the government and the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran to locate and identify missing persons, and encourage the families of the forcibly disappeared to come forward without having to fear the regime’s retaliation”. UNPO will continue to support human rights activists in Iran and around the globe in raising awareness for this crime and to fight for the eradication of enforced disappearances.