Committee on Enforced Disappearances Holds Informal Meeting with States
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances today held an informal meeting with States.
Olivier de Frouville, Chair of the Committee, expressed gratefulness to the States parties that had dedicated time to participating in the exchange.
Speaking in the discussion were Iraq, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Zambia and Panama. Topics discussed included flexibility and transparent cooperation between States parties and the Committee; the recent visit by the Committee to Iraq; measures to address enforced disappearances from the 1970s and 1980s in Argentina, and the inclusion of its “ESMA Museum of Memory” in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world cultural heritage list; the status of the missing Azerbaijani citizens as a result of previous wars in Nagorno-Karabakh; best practices regarding the use of digital technologies; domestication of Convention provisions in Zambia; and clashes in the treaty body review calendar.
Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s twenty-fifth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 27 September at 3 p.m. to hold an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations and intergovernmental organizations.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, opened the meeting, welcoming the representatives of the State parties and saying that he was looking forward to a fruitful exchange. During the session, the Committee had reviewed reports from Mauritania and Nigeria and additional information reports from the Netherlands and Mexico. In addition, it had adopted lists of issues based on inputs from Samoa, Sri Lanka and the Central African Republic. Reports on urgent actions were also considered. As of June 2023, the Committee had registered over 1,600 such urgent actions. Through these, over 470 people had been located, of whom over 440 had been found alive. The Convention was currently ratified by 72 countries. Ratification of the Convention was not happening fast enough. Mr. de Frouville encouraged other countries to follow suit. He announced the launch of the multi-party initiative to organise a global convention on enforced disappearances in 2024. Its two goals were promoting ratification of the Convention and supporting victims.
During the session, the Committee had also held an event on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Joint statement on illegal intercountry adoptions. Different groups were involved in this endeavour, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child and several special rapporteurs. The event was attended by States, victims and their families. Additionally, on the occasion of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Committee had issued a joint press release with several institutions calling for justice for victims of enforced disappearances. The underlying context was also the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Committee was calling on all institutions to make commitments in the domain of enforced disappearances.
Committee Experts were participating in the treaty bodies strengthening process alongside other stakeholders. The Committee did not have a periodic report, but could request follow-up reports and additional information. The Committee had on a number of cases reviewed its working procedures.
Statements by Committee Experts
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Expert, said that the disappearance of migrants was a significant cause of concern, and an issue which was addressed in the Committee’s first draft general comment. The general comment recommended measures to prevent the disappearance of migrants and promote cooperation with relatives and witnesses that could have more information. Language barriers and the unregulated status of some migrants posed obstacles in that regard. All States should better cooperate on this issue, regardless of whether they were countries of origin, transit or destination. State parties needed to develop evidence-based migration policies and legislation, and protect data privacy standards. The Committee had held intensive consultations with civil society organisations, academia and victims on the general comment, receiving a large amount of substantial feedback. States needed to better protect migrants from enforced disappearance. Each State had the right to design its own system of controlling its borders. The general comment respected this, while pointing to human rights issues in the context of migration. It was State parties’ responsibility to determine how the Committee’s recommendations would be implemented. Different international bodies and United Nations entities could support implementation, however.
JUAN PABLO ALBAN ALENCASTRO, Committee Rapporteur, said that last September, the Committee started working on its joint project on short-term enforced disappearances. The project aimed to develop a concept note presenting an interpretive statement focusing on the duration aspect of enforced disappearance. The Committee had received 54 contributions from stakeholders to the concept note, eight of which were from States, three from individuals and the remainder from civil society organisations. The Committee aimed to adopt the document during its September 2024 session. The Committee was interested in receiving informal inputs from various stakeholders.
Statements and Questions by States Parties
Iraq welcomed States that had recently acceded to the Convention and invited others to follow suit. Cooperation between the Committee and State parties needed more flexibility. Flexible and transparent cooperation between the State parties and the Committee would encourage other countries to ratify and move toward resolving enforced disappearances. Iraq took positive steps to adopt the provisions of the Convention. In its cooperation, Iraq received a visit from the Committee on Enforced Disappearances in 2022 and provided all information requested of it in cooperation with the relevant national institutions.
Argentina congratulated the Committee for their efforts and commitments. Argentina was addressing its historical enforced disappearances, including by setting up databases and collating documentation related to the military dictatorship in the region in the 1970s and 1980s. The Convention should be universally applied. Argentina continued to encourage others to ratify it. An interactive dialogue was held in 2023 between Argentina and the Committee. Argentina made great efforts to address the enforced disappearances occurring between 1976 and 1983. Last September, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization included the “ESMA Museum of Memory” in its world cultural heritage list. The Museum was a symbol of the social consensus and a means to achieve justice. Safekeeping and preservation of this site was needed, and Argentina was committed to this cause.
Azerbaijan stated that it was committed to the Convention and the reporting procedure. The country adhered to Convention provisions regarding the rights of children and women, as well as of other disappeared persons. Many Azerbaijani citizens were still missing as a result of previous wars in Nagorno-Karabakh. The ongoing search was undermined by Armenian officials, who refused provide information on missing persons’ whereabouts or access to the locations where remains could be located. Azerbaijan did cooperate with Armenia in handing over the remains of Armenians.
Ecuador welcomed the drafting and adoption of the general comment on enforced disappearance in the context of migration. It invited other States to ratify the Convention. No statute of limitations nor amnesty should exist for perpetrators of enforced disappearance, as was the case in Ecuador. Specialised education was needed for public officials dealing with enforced disappearance. How could States avoid duplicating the efforts of other institutions in addressing enforced disappearance? How could they make the best use of digital technologies to find missing persons?
Responses and Comments by the Committee
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Expert, stated that the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances had conducted a study on the challenges of new technologies in the context of searches and investigations. A report on the study would be published soon. Not all the international community understood the digital technologies used in investigations of enforced disappearance. What kind of data protection schemes could be used?
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Expert, thanked Iraq for allowing the Committee to visit and assess the domestic situation directly. Efforts to adopt the law to harmonise legislation with obligations stemming from the Convention were important. She highlighted the willingness of eight countries to have a dialogue on additional information. Argentina’s efforts were positive. It was very important that the ESMA Museum of Memory was included in the world cultural heritage list. During the May 2023 meeting of the Chairs of Treaty Bodies, they were very clear regarding the importance of harmonising working methods to ensure consistency and avoid the duplication of activities. The Committee had several meetings with the Committee on the rights of migrant workers and the Committee against Torture to discuss harmonisation. It was very important not only to hear States’ concerns, but also to express the Committee’s concerns, in order to recognise issues and have States include them in national measures. Prevention and eradication policies were needed. Some States said that they did not have enforced disappearance, which should not prevent them from adopting the Convention. Coordination was important for the entire treaty body system.
MOHAMMED AYAT, Committee Expert, said that the Committee’s essential role was to monitor the proper implementation of the provisions of the Convention to eradicate and prevent the horrible phenomenon of enforced disappearance. The Committee acted as a gateway to prevent further abuses depriving others of fundamental rights, through torture and murders. It was States, with the support of civil society organisations, that needed to implement the provisions of the Convention, so dialogue with States parties was of greatest importance. He welcomed Iraq’s willingness to cooperate with the Committee. As soon as possible, a law should be passed in Iraq to criminalise enforced disappearance. This was an urgent matter. Other offences related to it were also important. Once the Convention was ratified, a legal definition of enforced disappearance that was in line with the Convention needed to be adopted. Such a definition was a prerequisite to implementation of the Convention, and would be beneficial to victims. Proper registries were needed. There were also many other related provisions that were needed. The Committee was there to help any State that needed them. Mr. Ayat expressed satisfaction with the States present, who had expressed their interest in the Convention.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, said the Committee had very limited resources, and close cooperation with other mechanisms was needed to ensure that activities were as efficient as possible. The Committee and the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearance complemented each other’s efforts. This complementarity was very important. Another example of the Committee’s cooperation was the Joint statement on illegal intercountry adoptions, which the Committee had developed with other relevant human rights mechanisms.
Responses and Comments by States Parties
Zambia said that it was a signatory to the Convention. In an effort to promote access to justice, Zambia had established a legal mechanism empowering those whose liberty was hampered or violated. In April 2011, the Convention was adopted, however the process of domesticating its provisions was still pending. Zambia emphasised its commitment to the consultative process with all stakeholders, and would submit all necessary information for further consideration.
Panama said that it was promoting the universal nature of the Convention. The Committee needed to take into account the meeting calendar of the Human Rights Council. States need to present reports to different committees, sometimes at the same time, which makes things harder. The same people sometimes needed to produce reports simultaneously. Coordinating with other treaty bodies and avoiding examining States during Human Rights Council sessions would be appreciated.
Responses and Comments by the Committee
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, said that it would perhaps be beneficial to establish national mechanisms in charge of reporting to international bodies and follow-ups on recommendations. Clashes in the review calendar were a significant problem. There were 10 Committees with frequent sessions. The capacity of the United Nations Office at Geneva was limited.
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, said that the 10 treaty bodies, nine of which reviewed States parties’ reports, were very saturated with demands, even though not all State parties were reporting in time. At many times of the year, three different committees’ sessions were held simultaneously, putting strain on conference and documentation services. It would be very helpful to bring into States’ attention the limited capacities of the treaty bodies.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, expressed gratefulness to the States parties that had dedicated time to participating in the exchange.
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