Header image for news printout

Committee on enforced disappearances officially closes eighteenth session and opens nineteenth session

7 September 2020

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this afternoon officially closed its eighteenth session and opened its nineteenth session, hearing an address by Mahamane Cissé-Gouro, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Committee opened its virtual eighteenth session on 4 May, becoming the first of the human rights treaty bodies to hold a session online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nineteenth session will be held from 7 to 25 September. On 14 and 15 September, the Committee will hold a dialogue with Iraq under its additional information reporting procedure.

Mahamane Cissé-Gouro, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said
this year marked the tenth anniversary of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance. This anniversary was taking place in a particularly challenging context, full of uncertainties, to which all had to adapt. The work of the Committee had already left its mark, through the urgent action procedure, the periodic reporting and individual communications procedures. In the context of COVID-19, the Committee had led other Committees by being the first Committee to hold an on-line session and to decide to hold an on-line dialogue with a State party.

Mohammed Ayat, Chairperson of the Committee, said the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to pose significant challenges for the Committee’s work. They were constantly encountering technical problems and they had to juggle 14-hour time zone differences. They also faced severe restrictions on access to meeting platforms and interpretation services. Despite these challenges, the Committee had continued its work, and refused to allow the limits encountered to restrict it.

The Committee adopted its agenda for the session.

Isatou Ayesha Jammeh from the Gambia spoke as a victim of enforced disappearance. Milica Kolaković-Bojović, Committee Expert, responded to her on behalf of the Committee.

Documents relating to the session, including the schedule of public meetings, can be found here.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Monday, 14 September at 3:30 p.m. to hold a dialogue with Iraq under its additional information reporting procedure.

Statements

MOHAMMED AYAT, Chairperson of the Committee, said today the Committee would both officially close its eighteenth session and open its nineteenth session. This sequence of events was very unusual, and responded to the exceptional situation the world continued to face in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the eighteenth session, the Committee had actively continued its work. Committee Experts had held several meetings and had multiple email exchanges. This had enabled the Committee to adopt its lists of questions for Panama and Brazil, as well as its report to the United Nations General Assembly. The Chair officially closed the eighteenth session and opened the nineteenth session.

MAHAMANE CISSÉ-GOURO, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that as he had only recently taken up his functions, he particularly valued this opportunity to meet with the Committee members – even if only virtually. He was familiar with the Committee’s work and the work of treaty bodies as he had worked for many years at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and had seen the value and the impact of the work of treaty bodies in the field. Throughout his experience, he had witnessed on various occasions the dramatic consequences of enforced disappearances for families, relatives and communities at large. The Committee’s work could have an important impact in addressing these consequences, giving hope to victims and families, encouraging remedies and, ultimately, helping to prevent enforced disappearance in the first place.

Mr. Cissé-Gouro said this year marked the tenth anniversary of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance. This anniversary was taking place in a particularly challenging context, full of uncertainties, to which all had to adapt. The work of the Committee had already left its mark. Through the urgent action procedure, the Committee had helped find people subjected to enforced disappearance and given hope to many families in their effort to locate their loved ones. Through the periodic reporting and individual communications procedures, the Committee had not only provided guidance to States but also contributed to the progressive development of international law, pushing the boundaries of international jurisprudence. In the context of COVID-19, the Committee had led other Committees by being the first Committee to hold an on-line session and to decide to hold an on-line dialogue with a State party. It had continued its substantive work unabated, registering 77 new urgent actions since last May, bringing the total number of registered urgent actions to the impressive figure of 968.

If anything was holding the Committee back, it was the slow ratification of the Convention. Last June, Oman submitted its instrument of ratification, bringing the number of States parties to 63. Mr. Cissé-Gouro congratulated the Committee for taking the decision to hold a dialogue with Iraq under the additional information reporting procedure. To have this dialogue online required huge efforts and concessions, but it clearly demonstrated once again the Committee’s high commitment and dedication to combat enforced disappearances.

MOHAMMED AYAT, Chairperson of the Committee, said the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continued to pose significant challenges for the Committee’s work. They were constantly encountering technical problems and they had to juggle 14-hour time zone differences. They also faced severe restrictions on access to meeting platforms and interpretation services. Despite these challenges, the Committee had continued its work, and refused to allow the limits encountered to restrict it. The Chair said Committee Expert Ahmed Tidiane Coulibaly was not participating in this session because of health reasons as he was fighting COVID-19 right now. He welcomed back Committee Expert Horacio Ravenna who had also contracted COVID-19 but was now better.

Mr. Ayat underlined the additional challenges that victims of enforced disappearances faced in the current context of the pandemic. The victims were more than ever confronted with the silence of the authorities responsible for tracing and investigating cases of enforced disappearances. They also very often suffered from the disastrous economic and social consequences of the crisis. The Committee must constantly try to find answers to alleviate their suffering and support them with dignity. The determined objective of the Committee was to help States translate the principles of the Convention into reality. Unfortunately, 10 years after its entry into force, they were still very far from this.

The Chair said the Committee warmly welcomed the ratification of the Convention by Oman last June. However, despite this new ratification, 10 years after the entry into force of the Convention, only 63 of the 193 Member States of the United Nations had ratified it. At the same time, tens of thousands of cases of enforced disappearance were committed in all regions of the world. The campaign to increase ratifications of the Convention must continue. The number of urgent actions recorded and monitored daily by the Secretariat was soon approaching the fateful figure of 1,000. These urgent actions all related to facts that began after the entry into force of the Convention, and sometimes very recently. Enforced disappearances were taking on new forms and characteristics, and that was why the Committee must not only continue its action but also adapt it.

Mr. Ayat recalled that there was no periodicity in the reporting procedure presented by States parties to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. Once the Committee had considered the initial report and adopted concluding observations, it had the option of requesting additional information from States parties. This request for additional information was only made if and when the Committee deemed it necessary. The main objective of this procedure was to promote support for State authorities with a frequency adapted to their specific situation. The victims of enforced disappearances remained the central pivot and the actors of civil society one of the key partners. During this session, the Committee would implement, for the first time, this new modality of examining additional information, holding a dialogue with Iraq on September 14 and 15. This was the first treaty body dialogue to take place online. During the session, the Committee would also adopt its lists of questions for Greece, Mali, Niger and the Czech Republic. The Committee would review its Urgent Actions report, as well as the third individual complaint received. The Committee would celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Convention, jointly with the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances, with two public webinars during the session. They would focus on the issue of tracing missing persons and investigating enforced disappearances.

ISATOU AYESHA JAMMEH from the Gambia, speaking as a victim of enforced disappearance, said her father was the cousin of Yahya Jammeh, the former President of the Gambia. In 2005, when she was 14, her father and aunt were disappeared. From what they had been told, her father was the only person who would face his cousin and tell him the truth. This was apparently the reason why he was disappeared. From the age of 14 years, she had had to go on growing up without the love of her father. That love was snatched away and her father had never been seen again. The 15 years that had since passed had not been easy for her and her family. Justice had still not been done. They had heard the testimonies of some members of the Jungulars, the hit squad of the former President, before the Truth Commission, who said that her father and aunt were killed. What they said about how they were killed was terrible and invaded her days and nights. She always asked herself when there would be justice for her family, and when they would know where her father and his sister were to finally rest in peace. Her family’s story was one of many others in the Gambia. Many did not know the fate of their loved ones and like her family lived in continuous trauma.

Ms. Jammeh urged the Committee to help and support the victims of enforced disappearance in the Gambia to ensure that the Government supported these victims who needed more than just justice, they needed the truth.

MILICA KOLAKOVIĆ-BOJOVIĆ, Committee Expert, speaking on behalf of the Committee, thanked Ms. Jammeh for her testimony. Such testimony was essential for all, and reminded the Committee about the importance of its role and of joining forces and efforts against enforced disappearances. It was thanks to people like Ms. Jammeh that progress could be made for the promotion and protection of human rights, and for the prevention of further violations in the future. Whatever the circumstances, access to truth and justice were essential for all victims of enforced disappearances and for societies at large. The Committee considered that victims of enforced disappearances must be able to take part in the process of searching for their loved ones, and of investigating the cases. They must be supported in their daily fight, and in terms of their socio-economic rights. States had the responsibility to take specific actions on each of these issues.

The Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearances was a guide for victims and for States on all these issues, and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances was present to support victims and to guide States as to what could be done to ensure that all acted in the same direction, namely to promote the rights of victims and prevent all enforced disappearances in the future. The Gambia should submit its report in October this year and the Committee looked forward to receiving it to initiate the dialogue with the authorities, and cooperate with them, and with all actors who, like Ms. Jammeh, carried a daily fight against enforced disappearances.

___________

For use of the information media; not an official record