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Committee on Enforced Disappearances Opens Twenty-Fifth Session

11 September 2023

Hears Testimony from a Victim of Enforced Disappearance

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning opened its twenty-fifth session, during which it will examine the reports of Mauritania, Mexico, the Netherlands and Nigeria 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 hold a joint event on illegal intercountry adoptions with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and three Special Rapporteurs involved in issuing a joint statement on the subject.  It will also hold informal meetings with national human rights institutions, States, non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations, and an event to launch its general comment on Enforced Disappearances in the context of migration.  Further, it will also adopt lists of issues for the Central African Republic, Samoa and Sri Lanka. 

Wan Hea Lee, Chief, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Section, Human Rights Treaties Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and representative of the Secretary-General, addressed the Committee, expressing appreciation for the engagements of all members to support the enforcement of the Convention.  She congratulated the four members of the Committee who had been re-elected last June: Committee Chair Carmen Rosa Villa-Quintana (Peru), Olivier de Frouville (France), Matar Diop (Senegal) and Vice-Chair Barbara Lochbihler (Germany).  She also congratulated a newly-elected member of the Committee, Fidelis Kanyongolo (Malawi). 

According to Ms. Lee, the Committee had significantly increased its collaborative efforts through cooperation with various stakeholders, including civil society, national human rights institutions and United Nations agencies.  On 30 August 30, 2023, the Committee issued a joint statement with the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and other human rights bodies in commemoration of the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, urgently calling upon all States to provide effective access to justice to the victims of enforced disappearances.  Furthermore, the Committee had adopted a statement on non-State actors in the context of the Convention, which represented the culmination of three years of discussions between a variety of institutions and victims. 

Similarly, the Committee had taken a cooperative approach to developing its first general comment on enforced disappearances in the context of migration.  The initial draft was adopted in March after extensive consultations with over 240 stakeholders.  Ms. Lee highlighted that during this session, the Committee would engage in further dialogue towards adopting and launching the general comment and translating all its recommendations into tangible actions.

Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Committee Chairperson, in her opening statement, expressed condolences to the many hundreds of Moroccan people suffering from the consequences of the recent earthquake.

She said that the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights underscored the imperative for all States to fulfil their responsibility in respecting and upholding human rights, particularly regarding enforced disappearances, as only through State actions could these rights truly be protected. 72 States had ratified the Convention nearly 13 years since its inception.  She welcomed the recent ratification of the Convention by the Maldives on 31 July, noting that to date, 30 States had recognised the Committee’s competence for individual communications, and 28 had recognised its competence for inter-State communications.

The world was confronted with unprecedented threats, including increasing disappearances of women, children, and adolescents, indigenous people and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex individuals.  These incidents often involved not only State actors but also organised crime in the migration context.  All States needed to make a resolute commitment to preventing enforced disappearances that went beyond ratification of the Convention.

Eradicating enforced disappearance necessitated recognising the practice, holding perpetrators directly accountable, and addressing the structural causes that perpetuated impunity.  The passive attitude of judicial institutions, their lack of capacity, biases, stereotypes and the widespread impunity perpetuated and concealed enforced disappearances.

She conveyed a recent message from a victim of enforced disappearance, who expressed that for the families of the disappeared, every day is like 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared.  The victim found it astonishing that people continued to vanish without explanation from one day to the next, saying that their  pain was never-ending.Ms. Villa Quintana reported that the Committee’s first general comment on enforced disappearance in the context of migration would be presented through a public event in late September.

She highlighted the positive response from eight State parties in engaging directly with the Committee in its review of their reports on additional information under Article 29(4) of the Convention.  These constructive dialogues, focused on three identified priorities by Committee members, had helped clarify doubts, expand information, and contribute to ensuring that the Committee’s recommendations assisted the concerned States in implementing the Convention. 

Emphasising the life-saving impact of urgent actions, Ms. Villa Quintana highlighted that, out of 1,630 registered urgent actions, 484 missing persons had been located, with 438 found alive.  This underscored the crucial significance of the mechanism for victims and their families.  However, the Secretariat’s support was vital for the procedure’s success and relevance, as delays in response and information tracking could hinder the Committee’s effectiveness and legitimacy, while swift action increased the chances of promptly locating missing individuals. 

To fulfil all the tasks required by the Convention and address the challenges posed by the mandate, increased human resources were imperative.  The Secretariat team was overwhelmed and worked beyond regular hours, making the situation unsustainable.  The Chair highlighted the crucial support of the Office of the High Commissioner and its eagerness to support the Committee’s progress.  However, this necessitated the prompt acquisition of the necessary human resources.  She urged the Committee members to actively engage in plans and proposals affecting the work of both the Secretariat and the Committee.

In closing, Ms. Villa Quintana paid tribute to the victims of forced disappearances.

Asma Abdulraheem Mohamed Othmane, the sister of the disappeared person Mohamed Abdulraheem Mohamed Othmane, gave testimony of her brother’s enforced disappearance in Bahri, Sudan.  She called upon all institutions to give attention and support to the families and close ones of disappeared persons.  She expressed hope that her message would reach those who needed to hear it.

Her brother vanished on 29 May, 2023, during the ongoing war in Sudan.  Despite extensive efforts, including reporting to the Red Cross and using social media to raise awareness, he could not be found.  Ms. Mohamed Othmane had no information regarding his whereabouts.  She said her brother is a civilian, 27 years of age, without political or governmental affiliations.  She highlighted the widespread issue of wartime disappearances, the lack of attention to these cases, as well as urgent need for international organisations to support affected families and advocate for government support.  She called for the enactment of laws in Sudan to criminalise enforced disappearances, and emphasised the fundamental right of all to safety and security.

Matar Diop, Committee Expert, thanked Ms. Mohamed Othmane for her testimony, saying that the Committee was moved by it.  Ms. Abdulraheem had exhausted all the administrative capacities of her country.  She had to resort to producing a video statement as she could not attend the meeting in person.  He said that in 2021, Sudan had ratified the Convention, and now it was compelled to protect its citizens, as well as to address the issue of the disappeared persons. The Committee would offer guidance to Sudan to assist its implementation of its treaty obligations.  In order to trigger the urgent action mechanism, the Committee needed information regarding the perpetrators of the disappearance.  Mr. Diop called on Ms. Mohamed Othmane to provide more information on the institutions contacted regarding the disappearance, and the specifics of her brother’s disappearance. 

A representative from a non-governmental organisation supporting Ms. Mohamed Othmane took the floor to comment on the testimony.  The representative said that Ms. Mohamed Othmane’s case was similar to many other cases in Sudan.  Due to the ongoing conflict, it was difficult to find bodies to contact concerning disappeared persons.  There were a number of detention centres, and a number of perpetrators of enforced disappearance from both the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese Armed Forces.  Mainly, these groups were targeting youth involved in political activities.  Ms. Mohamed Othmane’s brother was on the phone with his sister at the time of his disappearance, when he was likely stopped at a military checkpoint. There were no police in Sudan currently, only the military intelligence units of the two armed groups.  More than 18 illegal detention centres existed, where hundreds of persons were detained, the representative said.

During the meeting, the newly elected member of the Committee, Fidelis Kanyongolo (Malawi), made his solemn declaration.

The Committee also adopted its agenda for the session.

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 on Monday, 11 September at 3 p.m. to consider the initial report of Mauritania (CED/C/MRT/1).