“The large number of people who have been reportedly forcibly disappeared in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion in February is alarming. This abhorrent practice must stop”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović ahead of this year’s International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, on 30 August.
In her Memorandum on the human rights consequences of the war in Ukraine, the Commissioner identified a pattern of enforced disappearances the overwhelming majority of which are attributable to Russian and Russian-controlled troops. The Commissioner received reports of Russian forces having detained or abducted Ukrainian civilians and concealed their fate or whereabouts after their withdrawal. In addition, many local officials, journalists, and human rights defenders have reportedly been disappeared or abducted in areas of Ukraine under the control of Russian or Russian-controlled troops. “Enforced disappearances place the victims outside the protection of the law. Even if the victims are disappeared for a short duration and eventually found or released, their disappearances are serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and may amount to crimes against humanity”, the Commissioner observed. “All persons reported disappeared or missing in Ukraine must be searched for, located, and released or returned. All cases of enforced disappearances should be duly investigated and those responsible punished.”
The Commissioner insisted that all efforts must be made to prevent those currently disappeared in Ukraine from going permanently missing. “The experience of the past decades in Europe has abundantly shown that enforced disappearances tend to become a long-term issue, leading to tremendous suffering and human rights violations of the relatives who go through a long wait to find out the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. Families have the right to know the fate of their relatives. Society at large also has the right to know the truth about these events” the Commissioner said.
The lack of truth and justice for thousands of missing persons remains a serious human rights issue in Europe, including in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Kingdom (Northern Ireland). The Commissioner urges resolute action to resolve all cases of missing persons and enforced disappearances in Europe. As explained in an Issue Paper on this topic published by her Office, this requires strengthening domestic legislation, including on the rights of relatives of victims of enforced disappearances, as well as opening archives, conducting programmes of exhumations and identification of mortal remains, prosecuting the perpetrators and providing reparations to the victims and their families.
“I reiterate my call on all European countries to urgently ratify the UN International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as the crucial first step toward preventing, investigating and punishing such crimes and protecting victims and their relatives”, the Commissioner concluded.
 On 16 March 2022, the Committee of Ministers adopted a decision by which the Russian Federation ceased to be a member of the Council of Europe, after 26 years of membership.
* All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with UN SC Res. 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.