Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances


The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is one of the thematic special procedures overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council.  Its central purpose is to help the relatives of disappeared persons ascertain the whereabouts of their disappeared family members.

The Working Group communicates with governments regarding individual cases and requests that the State investigate and inform the Working Group of the results. By acting as a channel of communication between families of disappeared persons and governments, the Working Group has been able to develop dialogues with many governments, regardless of whether they have ratified any legal instruments providing for an individual human rights complaints procedure.


The Working Group is composed of five independent experts and holds three sessions per year, with each session lasting between two and ten working days. The mandate of the Working Group lasts for a period of three years.

The UN Commission on Human Rights established the Working Group in 1980 with Resolution 20 (XXXVI). The Human Rights Council extended the Working Group’s mandate in 2007 (Resolution 7/12) and 2011 (Resolution 16/16). In 2014, the Human Rights Council decided to postpone the renewal of its mandate until its 27th Session (Resolution 25/116).

In fulfilling its mandate, the Working Group undertakes country visits, communicates with governments concerning information and complaints received regarding alleged rights violations, and submits activity reports to the Human Rights Council.

Country Visits

Upon invitation from a government, the Working Group undertakes country visits in order to gain a firsthand understanding of the situation of enforced disappearances in a country. The institutional and legislative factors that contribute to the practice of enforced disappearances are of particular interest to the Working Group.

During a country visit, the Working Group meets with government authorities, nongovernmental organizations, legal professionals, and relatives of disappeared persons. Following the visit, the Working Group issues a mission report that details its conclusions and recommendations for the State. The Working Group intends the mission reports to assist the government in identifying factors that contribute to enforced disappearances and providing solutions to aid in implementing international standards.

The Working Group generally undertakes one to four country visits per year. View the list of previous country visits and the Working Group’s subsequent reports here.

Often, if a government has not already extended an invitation, the Working Group will solicit an invitation if it receives a significant number of credible and serious reports of disappearances.

More than 100 countries have extended standing invitations to country visits by all thematic special procedures. View the list of countries that have extended standing invitations here.

Receiving Information & Complaints

The Working Group communicates with governments in a number of ways. These communications are often called procedures. Broadly speaking, procedures are a way for the Working Group to assess whether an alleged enforced disappearance meets specific criteria, transmit the case to the government concerned, request that the government investigate the case, and receive information about the results of the government’s investigation.

Importantly, the Working Group does not issue decisions concerning individual complaints and cannot require the State to remedy any alleged violation. More information on the Working Group’s procedures activities can be found on the Working Group’s Procedures webpage.

General Allegations

General allegations are a type of procedure in which the Working Group sends the government of a country a summary of the allegations it has received from relatives of disappeared persons or nongovernmental organizations. General allegations typically describe the obstacles encountered by the relatives of disappeared persons or nongovernmental organizations in the implementation of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Working Group invites the government to comment on the allegations if it wishes.

Prompt Interventions

Being of a slightly more pressing nature than general allegations, prompt interventions involve the Working Group transmitting cases directly to the Ministers for Foreign Affairs by “direct and rapid means.” The Working Group appeals to the government of the country concerned to take steps to protect the fundamental rights of the disappeared person.

Cases warranting a prompt intervention are those of intimidation, persecution, or reprisal against the relatives of a disappeared person, witnesses to a disappearance or their families, members of nongovernmental organizations, human rights defenders, or other individuals concerned with disappearances.

The Chairperson of the Working Group is authorized to transmit cases to governments between Working Group sessions.

Standard Procedures

Standard procedures are a type of procedure that the Working Group reserves for cases that are reported to it more than three months after the alleged enforced disappearance took place. In a standard procedure, the Working Group addresses the government concerned through a letter by the Chairperson of the Working Group to the government’s Permanent Representative to the UN Office at Geneva. The Working Group transmits cases of alleged enforced disappearance to the government concerned, requesting that the government carry out an investigation aimed at determining the fate of the disappeared person or their whereabouts. The Working Group also asks to be informed of the results of any investigations. If new information arises, the Working Group transmits it to the government following approval.

Urgent Appeals

The Working Group initiates the urgent appeals process when it receives credible allegations that a person has been arrested, detained, abducted, or otherwise deprived of liberty, and has been forcibly disappeared or is at risk of being disappeared. The Working Group transmits the allegations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the government concerned, requesting that the government investigate the disappearance, determine the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, and inform the Working Group of the results.

Urgent Procedures

Urgent procedures are a type of procedure that the Working Group reserves for cases that are reported to it less than three months after the alleged enforced disappearance took place. In these cases, the Working Group transmits the case to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the country concerned in the most direct and rapid way possible. The Working Group informs the sources of the information that an urgent action has been sent to the government in order to encourage the sources to communicate with authorities about the case.

Reports to the Human Rights Council

The Working Group reports annually to the Human Rights Council on all of its activities relating to its mandate. These reports are available on the Working Group’s Annual Reports webpage.


Complaints concerning instances of forced disappearance should convey the information referenced in the guidelines and requested on the complaint form, including:

  • details of the incident, such as date, place, and how the disappearance disappearanceoccurred;
  • identity and other details concerning the victim(s) of the incident;
  • any witnesses to the incident;
  • the alleged perpetrator(s);
  • any steps taken by the victims or their families to obtain redress; and
  • any steps taken by authorities to investigate the alleged violation and/or measures adopted to protect persons under threat.

In addition, any non-governmental organization (NGO) submitting a complaint must have the consent of the family of the disappeared and have the capacity to carry out any follow-up communication related to the complaint.

Complaints may be submitted by:

  • Mail:

Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances
c/o Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10

  • Fax: +41 22 917 90 06

To contact the Working Group with regard to another matter (not a complaint), use the email address: [email protected].