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Committee on Enforced Disappearances Opens Twenty-Fourth Session

20 March 2023

Hears Statement from a Victim of Enforced Disappearance

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning opened its twenty-fourth session, during which it will examine the report of Costa Rica, and Zambia in absence of a report, on their implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

During the session, the Committee will also assess reports on additional information from Argentina and Germany, and lists of issues for Benin, Malta and Norway. Further, it will examine an individual complaint, and adopt its report following its visit to Iraq, its report on urgent actions, its report on follow-up to the concluding observations on Brazil, Mongolia and Panama, and its annual report to the General Assembly.

Mahamane Cissé-Gorou, Director of the Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Representative of the Secretary-General, addressed the Committee, expressing appreciation for the engagements of all members to support the enforcement of the Convention. The Committee’s work was important to stamp out enforced disappearances, obtain justice for victims and combat impunity for the perpetrators. Collaborative work between the Committee, working groups and other treaty bodies was commendable. This had led to the creation of a project on the Committee’s first General Comment on enforced disappearances in the context of migration. The Committee had also extended an invitation to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances to attend an intervention at a public hearing at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Mr. Cissé-Gorou said that enforced disappearances remained a burning reality. Since the last session, the Committee had registered 36 new urgent actions, responding to calls from victims for support. This raised the total of registered urgent actions to 1,576, related to facts that occurred in 30 State parties to the Convention. This figure was high, but it was a small proportion of the disappearances that occurred worldwide. The Committee’s work was vital, as its interventions had led to identification of disappearances in Iraq, Mali and Mexico, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed. A lack of meeting time and resources had resulted in a backlog of reviews but also an overflow of work outside of designated hours. Advancing the implementation of treaty-based human rights obligations required sustainable funding from Member States and sufficient budgetary resources allocated to the Office of the High Commissioner.

Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Committee Chairperson, noted that it was a privilege to serve on the Committee as the voice of thousands of disappeared persons across the world. Victims were at the heart of its actions and concerns. Last September 2021, the Committee adopted the joint statement on illegal intercountry adoptions which, with working groups and treaty bodies, brought a gender and child-sensitive approach to the issue. The challenge now was to disseminate it. Meetings had taken place with victims, civil society and non-governmental organisations throughout the world regarding the Committee’s draft General Comment on forced disappearances in the context of migration. Through cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee was also able to visit Iraq, and its report would be adopted this session. Cooperation was bolstered between regional human rights mechanisms following meetings with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Committee welcomed the High Commissioner’s comment in support of establishing an institution to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons in Syria.

The Committee would support all State party and actors in their implementation of the Convention. To date, 429 persons had been located and of those, 407 had been found alive. These numbers were encouragement to continue such important work. Following International Women’s Day, Ms. Villa Quintana highlighted the struggle of women who have dedicated their lives to finding disappeared loved ones.

She commended Argentina and France’s initiative to launch a campaign to promote the ratifying of the Convention. She also welcomed Republic of Korea and Cabo Verde’s recent ratification of the Convention, and the recognition by Luxembourg of the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual communications. To date, 70 States had ratified the Convention, 29 States had recognized the competence of the Committee to receive and consider individual communications and 27 had recognized the competence of the Committee to consider inter-State communications. In today’s context of climate change, pandemics and wars, it was imperative to stop enforced disappearances once and for all, she said. The Committee would continue to appeal to State parties to implement its recommendations to support the families of victims in their search for truth. Victims were at the heart of the Committee’s work.

Izabel Lopez Raymundo then gave a testimony of her own enforced disappearance in Guatemala. In 1982, when she was 18 months old, her village was attacked, her parents were massacred and she was shot in the chest. Her eleven-year old sister kept her alive until she was taken by a soldier for medical care. After being placed in an orphanage, she was adopted by a Belgian family. She lived with the official version of her life—a heroic soldier had saved her after a massacre of which she was the sole survivor—until an association seeking disappeared children contacted her family. Her identity was confirmed by the scar of a bullet wound on her chest. She learned that her sisters were alive and the soldier was her abductor. The reunion between her and her sisters was emotional. Biological ties had been broken and it was hard to heal the psychological wounds but also integrate the truth of her past and her Mayan roots. She thanked the Guatemala Liga that had followed her case, the Belgian foundation “Lost Roots” and the Committee for their work, and expressed hope that the joint statement on illegal intercountry adoptions would soon become a reality.

Juan Jose Lopez Ortega, Committee Expert, in response to Ms. Lopez Raymundo’s testimony, said that her story highlighted the importance of States adopting all necessary measures to prevent enforced disappearances through illegal adoptions. Abducting a child denied them of ancestral memory, which was built upon generations linking family to community and history. Ms. Lopez was deprived of that and, upon learning the truth, was forced to grieve that life while rebuilding relationships with her family over 40 years later. In today’s world of wars and humanitarian crises, the risk of enforced disappearances of children was especially increased. Since its inception in 2011, the Committee had stressed the importance to provide adequate protection to minors. Recalling the joint statement with the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Special Rapporteurs on illegal intercountry adoptions, Mr. Ortega underscored that children had a right to know their parents, to be cared for and not to be separated from them against their will. Children who had been illegally deprived of their identity had the right to have it restored. Mr. Lopez Ortega said it was an honour and a privilege to share the floor with Ms. Lopez. Her experience was proof of the importance of the Committee’s work.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Webcasts of the meetings of the session can be found here, and meetings summaries can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday, 27 March, to consider Zambia’s implementation of the Convention in absence of a report.