Committee on Enforced Disappearances
13 November 2018
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning held separate meetings with States, with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions and with non-governmental organizations.
Suela Janina, Committee Chairperson, in her opening remarks, briefed on the Committee’s activities during the fifteenth session, during which it had reviewed three States parties - Japan, Mexico and Portugal. The Chair remarked that the follow-up dialogue with Mexico was the very first such procedure, which would be applied to other countries as well. The guidelines with best practices in search and location of disappeared persons, which was a matter of life and death for many, would soon be opened for public consultation. She remarked on the lack of resources to enable the implementation of additional meeting time granted to the Committee by the General Assembly.
Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanism Division at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reiterated the Chair’s call for additional support for the work of the Committee, which he said focused on very concrete human rights situations of human beings on the ground. It was painful that due to the lack of resources, the Office could not support the Committee’s additional week of work - as a result, the Committee was unable to adequately respond to more than 500 requests for urgent action from individuals who had already exhausted national remedies.
Representatives of United Nations Member States and States parties to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance stressed that enforced disappearance was an important issue for the international community and reiterated support for the Convention’s universal ratification. Speakers noted that they routinely issued such a recommendation to States during the Universal Periodic Review process, and asked for additional information on the follow-up procedure, the reporting cycle following the submission of the initial report, and the Optional Protocol that the Committee was developing.
The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions said that the Marrakech Declaration, adopted at the thirteenth international conference of national human rights institutions held in October 2018 in Morocco, reaffirmed the positive, important, and legitimate role of human rights defenders in contributing to the realization of all human rights. This conference was relevant to all treaty bodies, the speaker noted, but it was of specific importance to this Committee, as increasingly, enforced disappearances were perpetuated against human rights defenders, which was an alarming trend in many regions.
Representatives of non-governmental organizations reaffirmed the great step forward that the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance represented, stressing in particular its positive role in strengthening domestic legal protection from enforced disappearance, and expressed concern about political developments in several countries and a growing number of enforced disappearances there. Considering that 30 States parties were yet to submit their reports, the Committee should start a review in absence of a report, including in Brazil, Nigeria and Mali, they said, and expressed support for the follow-up procedure in which the Committee rightly prioritized certain countries considering the gravity of the situation there. Speakers briefed on the situation in the Philippines, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Speaking in the discussion were Argentina, Japan, France and Mexico. Also speaking was the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, and the following non-governmental organizations: Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance of the Philippines, Latin American Association for Families of Detained and Disappeared, Geneva for Human Rights, and the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearance.
Meeting summaries of all public meetings held during the fifteenth session of the Committee on Enforced Disappearance can be found here, and archived meeting webcasts here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 16 November at 3.30 p.m. to close its fifteenth session.
Meeting with States
SUELA JANINA, Committee Chairperson, opened the meeting by welcoming Member States whom she said were the Committee’s valuable partners, and then briefed on the activities of the fifteenth session during which the Committee had reviewed three States parties - Japan, Mexico and Portugal. The follow-up dialogue with Mexico was the very first that the Committee had undertaken, in order to further review the situation in this country which had already completed the first reporting cycle. This procedure would be applied to other countries as well, and the Chair urged States to provide their feedback and offer constructive comments. As for the search and location of disappeared persons, which was a matter of life and death for many, the Committee was working on producing the guidelines, which would be a very useful tool for States. The guidelines would soon be opened for public consultations. Turning to the universalisation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Chair recalled that the Committee had ambitiously committed to doubling the number of ratifications by 2020, and in this matter asked for the support of Member States, including through the recommendations they gave during the Universal Periodic Review.
The Committee faced challenges too, said Ms. Janina, stressing in particular support for the work of the Committee. The Committee needed additional meeting time to enable it to fully address the challenges related to the implementation of the Convention, such as to examine reports in the absence of States, and had been granted the fifth week; however, the staffing needs for that additional week had not been met, which meant that effectively, the Committee could not use that additional week. The Chair also underlined the Committee’s wish to ensure that it met at least once each session with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearance, in order to complement and build on each other’s work.
Argentina said it was committed to the universal ratification of the Convention and together with France was chairing the Group of Friends of the Convention, which had launched in 2018 the second ratification campaign. The Group of Friends also routinely issued recommendations to ratify the Convention during this year’s Universal Periodic Review.
Japan expressed appreciation for the engagement and interest of the Committee Experts during the review of Japan which had taken place during the current session. Enforced disappearance was an important issue for the international community and Japan was supporting the Committee’s campaign to double the number of ratifications and in that vein, was approaching a number of countries in the region. Japan asked additional information about the process leading to the second review, as well as the scope of issues addressed therein.
France stressed the importance of being informed about the work of the Committee and the challenges it faced, and underlined the critical importance of the Committee’s mandate. France, which had already submitted its first report, asked about the possibility of using the simplified reporting procedure and its ramifications for the follow-up procedure.
Mexico said it had had its follow-up dialogue the previous week which had allowed for a positive exchange of ideas and had also allowed Mexico to inform the Committee on measures and steps it was taking to address the issues. Mexico asked for additional information about the Optional Protocol that the Committee was developing.
SUELA JANINA, Committee Chairperson, reaffirmed that the Committee was closely following each Universal Periodic Review cycle and added that it had decided to send notes and letters to States which had received a recommendation to ratify the Convention. The notes were intended to explain the preventative power of the treaty and to offer the Committee’s assistance in the ratification process. The Chair stressed the critical importance of working together with States to increase the number of ratifications.
With regard to the follow-up procedure, the Chair said that the Convention was a new and modern instrument; it did not contain periodic reporting cycles, rather, it provided in its article 29 the duty of the Committee to request additional information from States on a needs basis. After presenting the first report, the State parties did not have an obligation to appear again before the Committee, and the follow-up procedure enabled the Committee to address the issue of enforced disappearance where those were relevant and so enable a more targeted intervention. In the case of France, the Committee had issued concluding observations, and six years after the review, the State Party, instead of submitting a full report to the Committee, only needed to submit information on the implementation of the concluding observations. Turning to the search and location guidelines, the Chair said that the Committee had initiated the work during its thirteenth session, in response to the need observed during dialogues with States parties.
Other Committee Experts remarked that in the seven years of its work and dialogues with States parties, and the reception of over 500 urgent actions for disappeared persons, the Committee had observed good and bad practices concerning the search and location of disappeared persons, which had prompted the elaboration of key principles and good practices in this regard. On examining situations in the absence of a report, the Committee had decided to undertake such reviews five years after the submission deadline, and was also actively seeking to provide support and assistance to such States.
IBRAHIM SALAMA, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanism Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, reiterated the Chair’s call for States’ additional support for the work of the Committee. Mr. Salama stressed that its work was not duplicative of any of the other human rights treaty bodies as it focused on very concrete human rights situations of human beings on the ground. That was why it was painful that due to the lack of resources, the Office could not support the implementation of the fifth additional week of work that the General Assembly had granted. The so-called formula for resourcing the human rights treaty bodies system had not been implemented, and until then, there was no hope of saving a number of human rights committees, including this Committee, he said. Because of the lack of resources, the Committee was unable to adequately respond to more than 500 requests for urgent action it had received and this meant that some individuals, who had already exhausted national remedies, lost their freedom or their lives. Mr. Salama reminded that next month, States would consider a General Assembly resolution, based on the Secretary-General’s report which explained this issue in detail.
SUELA JANINA, Committee Chairperson, stressed the importance of finding a solution for the human rights treaty bodies as a whole, and avoiding bottlenecks. In this, it was important to ensure better coordination between States’ representations in Geneva and New York. Finally, the Chair thanked the States for their continued support for the work of the Committee.
Meeting with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions
Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions briefed the Committee on the efforts in promoting the ratification of the Convention, mentioning in particular the thirteenth international conference of national human rights institutions held in October 2018 in Morocco, focused on bolstering support for human rights defenders amidst a growing climate of shrinking civic space, threats and reprisals. The participants had discussed the crucial elements of an enabling environment, monitoring civic space and threats to it, protecting human rights defenders and specifically women human rights defenders, and developing effective communication on human rights and the promotion of positive narratives. The Marrakech Declaration adopted at the end of the conference reaffirmed the positive, important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in contributing to the realization of all human rights, and set out the commitment of national human rights institutions and the way forward, such as by promoting the ratification and implementation of international human rights treaties, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The conference was relevant to all treaty bodies, but it was of specific importance to this Committee as increasingly enforced disappearances were perpetuated against human rights defenders, which was an alarming trend in many regions.
SUELA JANINA, Committee Chairperson, agreed on the need to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders, noting that the Committee was among the first to support the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Committee Experts stressed the role of national human rights institutions, noting that once again, its concluding observations urged States to either set up such an institution or provide increased support and resources to the existing ones. The Global Alliance should provide national human rights institutions with practical tools and instruments, for example model laws, so that they could take ownership of the implementation of the Convention at the national level.
Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions agreed that there was so much still to do to promote the universal ratification of the Convention, and welcomed increased cooperation and working together with the Committee in the area of practical tools and instruments to be provided to national human rights institutions.
Meeting with Non-Governmental Organizations
SUELA JANINA, Committee Chairperson, expressed appreciation for the work of non-governmental organizations on the ground and stressed the value of cooperation with them.
Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance of the Philippines remarked that the Philippines took pride in having enacted the first and only anti-enforced disappearance domestic law in Asia, however, the law was not being adequately implemented and the legal protection it provided must be strengthened by an international treaty. Hence, the imperative of the Philippines accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The struggle of Filipino families of desaparecidos for truth, justice, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition had been long and arduous, spanning seven presidencies. The country’s accession to the Convention would undoubtedly ease the process of fulfilling those ends.
Latin American Association for Families of Detained and Disappeared reaffirmed the great step forward that the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the Rome Statute, represented. In Argentina, there was a dramatic increase in the use of house arrest instead of a prison sentence for persons sentenced for the crime of enforced disappearance: 641 sentenced persons were serving their sentences under house arrest and only 272 were in prisons. This meant that 64 per cent of those sentenced for grave human rights violations were not detained. In Chile, the Supreme Court had granted last July conditional freedom to at least seven former agents of the dictatorship who had been sentenced for crimes against humanity. The Court had noted that nothing in the international law prevented it from taking such a decision. Serious concerns persisted about the situation in Mexico, where there were very little sanctions and scarce search for disappeared persons. In Colombia, the difficulties in the implementation of the peace process aggravated the situation of human rights defenders, while in Peru, the recent adoption of the law on the genetic bank would allow the identification of thousands of disappeared persons and enable the path towards truth and reparation for the families. Honduras must investigate events and sanction perpetrators of enforced disappearances, and take measures against impunity.
Geneva for Human Rights noted that the Committee had achieved a lot in a few years of its work, and went on to raise concern that 30 States parties were yet to submit their reports, 500 urgent appeals were yet to be dealt with, additional resources were still lacking, and the number of ratifications was not growing as expected. The new High Commissioner should launch a campaign for ratification, and together with the Secretary-General, remind States of their commitment to implement the original consensus regarding the increasing of resources for the Secretariat. In view of the scarcity of resources, the Committee rightly prioritized certain countries for follow-up reports, considering the gravity of the situation there, and it was time to start examining the situation in States parties in the absence of a report, including in Brazil, Nigeria and Mali.
International Coalition against Enforced Disappearance commented on the very slow ratification process and said that its members worked on local, national, regional and international levels to encourage States to ratify the treaty. The Coalition was concerned about political developments in several countries with a growing number of enforced disappearances, for example in Bangladesh and Pakistan, where the police force regularly disappeared their citizens, and in Sri Lanka, where the current political situation raised concerns about the safety of disappeared persons and their families. The Committee should examine the issue of enforced disappearance in the context of the rise of populism in the world and the phenomenon of migration, and define its own course of action.
In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts stressed the importance of receiving information from non-governmental organizations, which could be done for example, by submitting shadow reports, which the Experts used to prepare comments and observations for dialogues with States parties. Shadow reports were a very valuable contribution that non-governmental organizations could make to the work of the Committee. Experts recognized the need to strengthen national and regional alliances of specialized non-governmental organizations, and ensure their permanent presence in Geneva to ensure continued engagement and cooperation with the Committee.
Non-governmental organizations’ representatives welcomed the Experts’ reactions to information they provided on the struggle against enforced disappearance and would continue to maintain historical ties with the Committee.
SUELA JANINA, Committee Chairperson, reiterated the importance of the engagement with non-governmental organizations and thanked them for their valuable contributions.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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