Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
3 March 2021
I wish to express my sincere thanks for inviting me to address you.
On 17 February 2017, my Office launched a campaign before the General Assembly High Level Plenary Meeting, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. At that time, a goal was set - to double ratifications of the Convention in the following five years.
Four years have passed since. In 2017, there were 55 States parties to the Convention. Today, there are 63.
The eight States that have ratified the Convention over this period have taken positive steps. However, I note with regret that we are still far from our objective of 110 States parties by 2022.
My Office has developed different initiatives to contribute towards reaching this objective, including campaigns and trainings, in strong coordination with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
Our regional and country offices have promoted the ratification of the Convention and the recognition of the mechanisms established by the Convention. Their close follow up and cooperation with relevant national authorities and other stakeholders have contributed to specific developments, such as Mexico’s declaration recognizing the Committee's competence to receive and consider individual complaints, which occurred on 1 September 2020.
In many instances, including Mexico’s declaration just mentioned, victims and civil society organizations have played a key role to promote, worldwide, the ratification of the Convention and the full recognition of the competences of the Committee. Despite the challenges faced, they have carried out campaigns, promoting the political and legislative processes that are necessary for the ratification of the Convention. In their decision-making processes, some States have been very receptive to arguments that truth, justice and reparation are powerfully advanced though ratification of the Convention.
Political will of and concrete action by States is of course indispensable in this context. In that regard, I would like to commend the actions taken by the Group of Friends of the Convention, co-chaired by Argentina and France. I also welcome that, in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, the ratification of the Convention has been part of the recommendations that States consistently advance to their peers, and that many States have accepted this recommendation.
However, given the international community’s common goal to eradicate enforced disappearances, promises and good intentions are not enough.
It is urgent that all States ratify the Convention, as well as consider the relevant declarations to enable the Committee to examine individual complaints and interstate communications.
We know that the Convention stems in great part from the terrible practices of the dictatorships in Latin America in the seventies and eighties. It is however a mistake to consider it as a tool relevant only in relation to past crimes and to limited regions of the world; indeed enforced disappearance is a worldwide scourge.
There are important reasons for its ratification by all States. To note just some, the Convention provides the most comprehensive and potentially global protection, enshrining as a human right that no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance. The Convention also provides a shared definition of enforced disappearance, going beyond other binding universal human rights instruments. This definition has influenced the jurisprudence of courts, as well as relevant human rights bodies.
The Convention sets out a range of steps that States should take to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearance; as well as to address the terrible impact of enforced disappearance on individuals. For instance, it prohibits secret detention and calls on States to guarantee minimum legal standards around the deprivation of liberty, such as the maintenance of official registers of persons deprived of liberty and authorization to communicate with their family, counsel or any other person of their choice.
One of the Convention’s major innovations was article 24, which includes in the definition of victim not only the disappeared person but also any individual who has suffered harm as the direct result of an enforced disappearance. It establishes comprehensive forms of reparation. Finally, the Convention also requires States parties to take appropriate steps concerning the legal situation of the disappeared persons, particularly with regard to social welfare, financial matters, family law and property rights.
Unfortunately, enforced disappearances continue to occur throughout the globe, and they continue to take new forms.
The annual reports of the Committee and of the Working Group, and the cases that my Office receives throughout the year, provide clear data in that regard. And they demonstrate that every State can, at some point, be faced with the enforced disappearance of one of its nationals, be it within or outside its borders.
When a disappearance occurs, the Convention and the Committee are there to support victims, States authorities, National Human Rights Institutions and civil society organizations, to ensure that their actions to search for and locate the disappeared persons, and to give access to the truth, justice and reparation. The Convention and the Committee are also there to ensure that, if various States are involved, they cooperate to resolve the cases and support victims.
The universal ratification of the Convention is a priority for my Office, and I reiterate here our engagement to support this purpose through our different mandates.
I welcome the initiative of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, together with civil society partners, to join forces to promote the universal ratification of the Convention.
I take this opportunity to call upon all States parties to the Convention to engage with the Group of Friends of the Convention and actively contribute to their actions towards achieving universal ratification.
And I invite all other States to ratify the Convention urgently, thereby demonstrating their clear commitment to eradication of the all practices enforced disappearance.
Let’s all act NOW.