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150th Anniversary of the Central Tracing Agency

International Committee of the Red Cross

Video Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

11 December 2020

Greetings to all of you. Over the past 150 years, the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency has been of immense benefit to countless people. Its objective of tracing disappeared persons, to restore contacts between them and their relatives, is just as urgent now as it was 150 years ago.   Despite huge progress in information management and technical tools, there are still hundreds of thousands of disappeared persons worldwide, who have no way to get in touch with their relatives, or signal where they are. 

Some are detainees. Others are people affected by conflicts, disasters, or other situations such as migration. And the trauma around their disappearances extends well beyond each individual, affecting their families and the broader community. Disappearance creates permanent doubt and anguish. In cases of enforced disappearances – where the person has been removed by agents of the State, or with their authorization, support or consent – the accompanying inaction and impunity contribute to a pervasive sense of threat.

The Central Tracing Agency is a key part of a complex and multidisciplinary chain comprising State authorities, civil society actors, national human rights institutions and international organizations, which take part in the search for disappeared people and support victims.  This work is guided by the 1992 UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the 2006 Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance.  For example, the Convention requires States to establish and maintain official registers or records of persons deprived of their liberty, which must be accessible to any person with a legitimate interest in the information.

As High Commissioner for Human Rights, and in the name of all victims of enforced disappearances, I am deeply grateful for the work of the Central Tracing Agency.  There have been many occasions in which our work has been intertwined, and I look forward to many more.

No woman, man or child should ever be erased, in secret, from the face of the earth.  It is vital to ensure universal ratification of the Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance.  Later this month we will mark the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention. But only 63 States have ratified it. We need many more States to demonstrate to the world – and to their people – their strong commitment to ending enforced disappearances. I know we can count on the support of the ICRC in that regard, through public and bilateral advocacy.

Thank you for your work, your commitment to principle, and for your many years of standing up for human rights.