7 November 2013
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this afternoon held separate meetings with States parties to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and with non-governmental organizations and civil society groups.
In the meeting with States parties, Emmanuel Decaux, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said in opening remarks that while the Committee was new, it had made some progress during the first two years that it had been in operation. It had received nine reports from States parties thus far and was looking forward to receiving more in due course. As a new committee, Mr. Decaux said, it was committed to adhering to the highest standards of inclusivity and impartiality.
A number of States parties and other States present expressed views and asked questions at the meeting. Russia and Tunisia wanted to know whether there was duplication of effort in the work of the Committee and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and if there was, what would be the motivation of States to sign up to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance with which the Committee was associated. Argentina and Spain, which presented their reports to the Committee this week, expressed satisfaction with the Committee’s work. They were backed by Uruguay, which had been the first State to present a report to this Committee at an earlier session.
In the meeting with non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, Mr. Decaux said that the Committee’s methodology on engaging with non-governmental organizations and civil society would be finalised at a later meeting during this session. The work of non-governmental organizations was key to the work of this Committee and he appealed to non-governmental organizations to work as partners in raising awareness of the Convention.
Non-governmental organizations at the meeting raised the topic of reprisals against people willing to work with the United Nations human rights system. The International Service for Human Rights suggested that the Committee appoint a focal point to address reprisals, while Alkarama asked for clarification about the urgent appeals procedures of the Committee. The Asian Federation of Involuntary Disappearances raised the issue that few Asian States had signed up to the Convention.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Thursday, 14 November at 10 a.m. when it will meet with national human rights institutions to discuss methodology of engagement with the Committee. On the same day, it will also adopt a document on the Committee’s engagement with civil society. The Committee will conclude its fifth session on Friday, 15 November, after adopting its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Argentina and Spain, which were considered during the session.
Meeting with States Parties
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said in opening remarks that the Committee had passed an important milestone when it presented its second annual report to the United Nations General Assembly recently after two years of work. The re-election of Committee Members at this session ensured the continuity of the Committee’s institutional memory. The Committee had now reached “cruising speed”. It was looking forward to engaging with more States parties in coming months. It was the Committee’s aim that 60 more States would sign up to the Convention to add to the 40 or so that already had. The Committee had reached a crossroads of sorts in that the regular contact with the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances had led to coordination and complementarity. The treaty body system required that recommendations from the Committee, the Working Group and indeed other Committees, such as those dealing with torture and discrimination against women, were coordinated. When one looked at the network of the treaty body system, it was necessary to note its increasing administrative efficiency. As a new committee, this Committee adhered to the highest standards of inclusivity and impartiality. Committee Chairpersons had importantly taken a view on the post-2015 development agenda which stated that human rights had to be central to that agenda. In this respect, the resourcing of this Committee in the post-2015 era would be tied to the new human rights and development system. So far nine country reports had been submitted to the Committee, but it was expecting more. Mr. Decaux said he was sympathetic to “reporting fatigue” on the part of States but he underlined that the Committee stood ready to help States understand the Convention through its contact with the Committee.
Mexico said that it had taken note of the priorities set by the Committee and that it was drafting its report in cooperation with its law enforcement bodies. As a signatory to the Convention, Mexico was aligning its domestic legislation with the provisions of the Convention including by, for example, setting up a specialised unit to investigate enforced disappearances. An innovation in Mexico was a working group set up with the International Committee of the Red Cross to look into cases of enforced disappearances.
Uruguay said it wanted to share its experience of appearing before the Committee at the time it prepared its report and reform plan. It had been a positive experience and the Committee had helped Uruguay to come up with a roadmap to implement the provisions of the Convention, and this was to be commended to other States as they prepared their reports. The Universal Periodic Review could also be an avenue for knowledge-sharing in this respect.
Russia said it was not yet a party to the Convention but it was closely following the work of the Committee. Russia wanted to know more about the division of labour in the Committee and what steps it was taking to avoid duplication with other bodies, including the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances. It also asked whether the working rate of the Committee was too slow since other Committees managed to hear more than two reports per two-week session.
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, explained that duplication of work with the Working Group was strenuously avoided, while the methods of the Committee and the Working Group were different. As for the working rate of the Committee, this was in fact something the Committee was alive to but it only had two permanent members of staff. The volume of work, taking into account translation, documentation and so on, was extensive and, given the resources available to it, the Committee was doing what it could to avoid getting bogged down with a backlog of reports.
Tunisia said it appreciated the Chairperson’s frank replies to the questions put by the delegate from Russia. Tunisia had been due to present its report in July but because of the transitional nature of the current Tunisian administration, this had not been possible despite the technical assistance provided by the Committee and others. Tunisia asked the Chairperson to estimate the time lag between submission and review of reports. Was it true that it was up to four or five years?
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said that the Committee was small and was doing what it could. States were welcome to appeal directly to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights if they had concerns about time lags. As a twenty-first century committee, it was hoped that the Committee could work efficiently and avoid such immense time lags.
Argentina said that its experience of appearing before the Committee this week had been positive. Addressing the point made by Russia, Argentina said that the rules of procedure made the complementarity of the Committee and other bodies including the Working Group clear.
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, added that the Committee was constantly in contact with the Working Group and dovetailing their work.
A Committee Expert added that while the Committee and the Working Group dealt with the same topic, their functions and work were different and separate. The Working Group worked with individual cases of enforced disappearance on a humanitarian basis, while the Committee had an arbitrarial, judicial role to play, so the functions were quite different. Despite the fact that both bodies carried out fact-finding missions, the approach of each was quite different. If States were concerned that by ratifying the Convention they would be backing something they had already backed by supporting the mandate of the Working Group, the Expert said that they should look more closely at the working methods of both bodies to assess the facts of the matter.
Another Committee Expert thanked States for their questions and encouraged any State that had not signed up to the Convention to do so. The Committee was driven by cooperation and dialogue with the broad aim of preventing the phenomenon of enforced disappearance, so States had a stake in joining the Convention family.
Spain thanked the Committee for its frank and cooperative approach which it had experienced during the presentation of its report this week. It sympathised with the perception that the Committee and the Working Group were duplicating efforts but Spain would like to assure other States that based on its experience that was not in fact the case.
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, thanked both Argentina and Spain for their contributions to the Committee this week and said that their separate experiences would add to the ongoing learning process that the Committee was going through. He encouraged all States to keep in touch with the Committee.
Meeting with Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Groups
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said in opening remarks that it was important that the proceedings of the Committee were videotaped and broadcast on the Internet because it gave the highest possible access to civil society and interested parties. The methodology of dealing with non-governmental organizations was being reviewed in consultation with them and would be finalised at a meeting next week. The work of non-governmental organizations was key to the work of this Committee. The Committee backed a strong resolution to the issue of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society actors who cooperated with the human rights system in the Human Rights Council. The Committee strongly encouraged the participation of non-governmental organizations and promised that all communications they had with it were read and appraised. The Committee also appealed to non-governmental organizations to work as partners in raising awareness of the Convention.
International Service for Human Rights said it appreciated the recognition that the Committee had given to civil society in its work and was grateful for the non-governmental organization briefings that the Committee had organized. However, as more States became involved, it was worthwhile to anticipate more and longer such briefings in the finalised methodology on the relationship with civil society. The issue of reprisals was paramount and the procedures of this Committee had to be sensitive to that. Perhaps a focal point on reprisals could be appointed, as had been the case with the Committee against Torture.
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, replied that the Committee was working hard on its methodology and would attempt to balance all interests in this regard. Mr. Decaux acknowledged that it was embarrassing that submissions from victims as represented by non-governmental organizations were curtailed by time limits and limits on communication resources. The method of holding closed sessions was not done in the spirit of secrecy but rather to make the work of Committee more efficient on the one hand, and to respect confidential legal matters thrown up by the issue of enforced disappearances on the other. Meanwhile, the spectre of time was always the enemy of the Committee, Mr. Decaux said, and this restricted what time it could devote to non-governmental organizations.
Alkarama said that confidentiality was important in the context of enforced disappearances in the Arab World, so the Chairman’s point about closed meetings was well taken. Could the Committee say if it had sent out reminders to States to hurry along their reports? Could the Committee clarify its practice as regards urgent appeals? It would also be interesting to hear from the Committee about its efforts to advocate for the Convention and how non-governmental organizations could contribute to these efforts.
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, replied that reminders had been sent to States in May and that as the process gathered pace, more States were expected to submit their reports. Regarding urgent appeals, the Committee had heard some of these, the details of which had at this stage to remain confidential for obvious reasons. The Committee was sensitive to the risk of duplicating efforts with the Working Group in the matter of urgent appeals and it tried to avoid it. The Committee welcomed partnership with non-governmental organizations in advocating for the Convention. The “Friends of the Convention” was the main lobbying group for the Convention but non-governmental organizations had a role to play. Other parts of the United Nations system also had their roles to play.
On urgent appeals, a Committee Expert added that he realised that the system may not be clear to some people but the instructions on the website could help illuminate the process. There were other ways that victims could fight for their rights in the matter of enforced disappearances, such as the separate process of the Working Group. The Committee had held workshops around the world to advertise the provisions of the Convention and what it meant for victims’ claims.
Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances said that its region was under-represented on the Committee since few States from Asia had signed up to the Convention. What could the Committee do to halt reprisals in enforced disappearance cases such as, for example, those that had recently taken place in Indonesia and Bangladesh? What could the Committee do to help victims in countries where people were silenced? What could it do to encourage ratification by States in Asia?
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said it was true that the only Asian nations to ratify the Convention so far were Cambodia and Japan. Pushing for ratification was the “bread and butter” of the Committee and it was targeting likely candidates for ratification such as the Republic of Korea. The issue of addressing reprisals was moving to the front and centre of the whole programme of the international human rights system.
A Committee Expert said that some members of the Committee had recently participated in a workshop organized by non-governmental organizations in Argentina, and this was an indication of the Committee’s willingness to work with civil society.
Another Committee Expert underlined that the Committee itself, States and non-governmental organizations had to work together to raise awareness of the Convention.
EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, in closing remarks, said that he thought this had been a fruitful meeting and he hoped that more such dialogue would take place at side events in coming days.
For use of the information media; not an official record