UN human-rights body points finger at violators just as its chief is sacked

A special five-man UN working group has announced in Geneva that it investigated 2,100 cases of disappearances in 22 countries last year -- and it has accused governments of direct complicity in 1,950 of them.

The group's report is due to be debated here next week in the UN Human Rights Commission, which is still reeling from the sacking last week of Theo van Boven, the director of the UN human rights division.

Of all the initiatives currently before the commission, none bears van Boven's personal stamp like the probe on disappearances. Van Boven has nurtured and coaxed the group, installing a computer to handle the thousands of names received, and putting up with abuse from governments criticized.

Last year Gabriel Martinez, Argentina's ambassador here, even accused van Boven of hiring ''terrorists'' to do the research.

This year, 10 of the 22 countries criticized by the UN group are from South or Central America, with most disappearances having occurred in El Salvador and Guatemala. One country where abuses stopped in 1981 is -- ironically -- Argentina: eight cases were reported, but all were accounted for.

Despite this, UN officials favor keeping up the pressure on Argentina, since over 2,000 people who disappeared after the 1976 coup are still unaccounted for.

Meanwhile, charges continue to echo here that UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar bowed to Latin American pressure in sacking van Boven.

In the Geneva version of events, Guatamala's UN ambassador in New York complained angrily to Perez de Cuellar's office about van Boven's opening speech before the commission. Van Boven attacked arbitrary murder by state security forces, and criticized seven regimes, including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Iran , by name.

Subsequently, in this version, van Boven was called by William Buffum, an American who is a UN assistant secretary-general in New York, and urged to make changes. Van Boven refused -- although he did agree to deliver the speech as representing his own views. A week later he was told that his contract was not being renewed on April 30.

In the New York version of events, as reported by special correspondent Louis Wiznitzer, top UN officials had long been unhappy with van Boven's activities. Buffum had been among those who felt that van Boven tended to exceed his authority in going public with human-rights issues -- without clearance from above. They saw the differences as a matter of discipline and obedience.

In this version, the decision to fire van Boven was taken before Perez de Cuellar became secretary-general. Van Boven, hearing of the plan, then delivered his speech -- and was asked to go. In this version, the Latin Americans did not have time to pressure Perez de Cuellar, even had they wanted to.

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