A forced disappearance (or enforced disappearance) is the secret abduction or imprisonment of a person by a state or political organization, or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person's fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.
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According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which came into force on 1 July 2002, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, a "forced disappearance" qualifies as a crime against humanity, not subject to a statute of limitations, in international criminal law. On 20 December 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Often, forced disappearance implies murder: a victim is abducted, may be illegally detained and often tortured during interrogation, ultimately killed, and their body disposed of secretly. The party committing the murder has plausible deniability, as there is no evidence of the victim's death. In enforced disappearance cases states are obliged under international human rights law to return the remains of the forcibly disappeared persons to their families.
"Disappearing" political rivals is also a way for regimes to enforce complicity in populations. The difficulty of publicly fighting a government that murders in secret can result in widespread pretense that everything is normal, as it did in the Dirty War in Argentina.