Non-State Actors as Perpetrators: Precedents from Inter-American jurisprudence and their applicability to disappearance cases

29 Mar 2022

Enforced disappearance of persons is a serious human rights violation that, according to international instruments, can be perpetrated by State agents or by non-State actors acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State. 

One of the challenges facing international human rights law is how to address the phenomenon of non-State actors as perpetrators of human rights violations. In general, it can be argued that international human rights law has progressively incorporated the issue of non-State actors into the development of the international responsibility of the State. In this specific situation non-State actors include insurgent or guerrilla groups and individuals who commit international crimes within the scope of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, the attribution of responsibility to the State has not been as common with regard to human rights violations perpetrated by organized crime organizations or armed criminal groups. 

Under the current context in Mexico and probably in El Salvador and Honduras, where organized crime is entrenched in the State and both State and non-State actors are involved in human rights violations - including the current epidemic of disappearances - it will be critical to establish precedents that can help more effectively address this panorama of violence and hold perpetrators accountable. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) has addressed this question in several rulings cases of disappearances perpetrated by non-State actors acting under an informal or de facto link with the State, appealing to due diligence arguments, especially in cases where it was proven that the State was aware of the facts and failed to take measures to prevent the violations from occurring. This report contains the systematization and critical analysis of that jurisprudence.

So far, the IACHR Court has not addressed, either in its advisory or contentious function, interpretations and arguments on enforced disappearances committed by non-State actors who do not maintain links with the State, and this remains a controversial but urgent issue that must be analyzed in the future in order to achieve an effective protection and guarantee of human rights in the current situation of our continent.

Read the full report here.