Committee on Enforced Disappearances Holds Meeting with National Human Rights Institutions
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances today held an informal meeting with national human rights institutions.
Olivier de Frouville, Chair of the Committee, welcomed the contributions of national human rights institutes to the work of the Committee, saying that the Committee supported all endeavours that promoted the rights of disappeared persons and their families, including establishing mechanisms and conducting discussions.
Representatives of INDH de Perú, Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and Finland Human Rights Centre attended the meeting, presenting statements and responding to questions and comments by Committee Experts.
The topics discussed by the national human rights institutions included the role of Peru’s Ombudsperson in addressing enforced disappearance and safeguards for migrants travelling through Peru; the thousands of Ukrainians who had gone missing during the war and the need for monitoring institutions to access places of detention in Russia; monitoring of Sri Lanka’s obligations under Convention and increased interaction between the Committee and the State’s National Human Rights Commission; and means of amplifying the engagement of national human rights institutions and non-governmental organisations to support Finland to implement its obligations.
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 10 a.m. to hold an informal meeting with States parties to the Convention.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, opened the meeting, saying that it was a great pleasure to receive a great number of representatives of human rights institutions that dealt with enforced disappearances and other related aspects.
During its current twenty-fifth session, the Committee had received information on the matter of enforced disappearance related to several countries, and 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. The Committee adopted concluding observations based on reports sent by States parties. It could request additional information from States, but there was no system of periodic reporting.
The Committee had also considered urgent actions during the session. Through the urgent actions system, individuals could request that the Committee called on States to conduct searches for disappeared person, based on the Convention. This was a humanitarian measure. The Committee had requested over 1,600 such urgent actions. Through these, 476 people had been located, of whom 443 had been found alive.
Ratification of the Convention was not happening fast enough. So far, only 72 States had ratified it. To encourage ratification, a new global congress including friends of the Convention and families of disappeared persons would be set up in 2024. An effective and coordinated ratification campaign and new ways to aid victims of enforced disappearances were needed.
The Committee had recently marked the first anniversary of the Joint statement on illegal intercountry adoptions with an event assembling the Committee on the Rights of the Child and various special procedures mandate holders. The objective of that statement was to assist States to prevent the phenomenon and allow victims to have access to justice, reparations and truth. In addition, on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Committee’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a joint statement on “access to justice for victims of enforced disappearances”. Further, the Committee, the Working Group and the Inter-American Commission were working on a joint project on the notion of “short-term enforced disappearance”. In marking 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.
Statements from Committee Experts
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Expert, said some feedback had been received from national human rights institutions regarding the Committee’s first draft general comment on enforced disappearances in the context of migration. It was working with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions to develop this general comment. Various aspects of enforced disappearance differed across States, and it was more difficult to assess and address the issue in regions lacking national human rights institutions, like certain States in Asia and the Middle East. National human rights institutions need to work with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. Migrants, refugees and people on the move needed to be protected from enforced disappearances.
MILICA KOLAKOVIC-BOJOVIC, Committee Vice-Chair, called on national human rights institution to raise awareness and the knowledge of Governments to implement the Convention more efficiently. They needed to work with victims as well as non-governmental organizations, including associations of family members of disappeared persons, in the context of the general comment. Within the United Nations treaty body systems, national human rights institute reports were highly important. They included important information regarding the implementation of the Convention, including in the context of the general comment.
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 an document that called on States parties and supranational bodies to address such enforced disappearances. A call for contributions to the document had been published. Among the contributions received from States parties, one was received via a national human rights institution. The core topics that the draft would cover were currently being determined, and drafting would begin in the coming months. The Committee’s goal was to adopt the declaration in September 2024.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, said that cooperation with national human rights institutions and other institutions was important to address short-term enforced disappearance.
Statements from National Human Rights Institutions
INDH de Perú said that enforced disappearance was used by authoritarian regimes. Thousands of victims were registered in Peru in previous decades; there was still more than 20,000 missing persons registered. One of the objectives of Peru’s Ombudsperson was oversight of public institutions. Its goals were to support victims’ access to their rights to reparations and truth. The Ombudsperson could certify the nature of disappearances. There was also a court proceeding to declare someone disappeared. Not all missing were declared dead. This institution worked intensively with victims’ families to facilitate access to agile court proceedings. A law on the search for missing persons as well as a genetic database existed in Peru. It was the State’s responsibility to provide necessary resources for those tasks. Cooperation with the competent ministries, the International Committee of the Red Cross and others put pressure on the State to address the issue of missing persons. The Ombudsperson’s Office considered the Committee’s general comment to be quite important. Peru was in the transit zone for migrants leaving Venezuela. The Office agreed with the general comment and the duty of States to carry out investigations properly. All human rights institutions should cooperate to encourage States to conduct such investigations. It was also important to combat illegal arrests of migrants. In Peru, a migrant could not be arrested simply for being a migrant. It was important for the Committee to assess future Peruvian legal developments in the context of migration and criminalisation, which could also affect enforced disappearances.
Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights said that world recently commemorated the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Currently, there were more than 25,000 missing Ukrainians. Many of these people had been deported, imprisoned in Russia or executed. Only 144 adult civilians and 388 children had been recovered. In the context of the war in Ukraine, Russia did not grant access to relevant human rights observers and institutions. Russia did not adhere to the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and other international agreements. Ukraine’s main task was to return its civilians to Ukraine. More than 50,000 Ukrainian victims of abductions and torture had been recorded. Russia believed it could do whatever it wanted. Impunity should not exist. Diplomatic and other pressure on Russia was needed to return all Ukrainian civilians back home. Ukrainian citizens in Russia and the occupied territories should be granted their full rights. Mechanisms, including an international working group, were needed to pressure Russia to respect the rights of Ukrainian citizens.
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka said that enforced disappearances had a long history in Sri Lanka. It was a phenomenon that had affected every community in the country, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Sri Lanka ratified the Convention in May 2016 and enacted the Enforced Disappearance Act in 2018, which advanced domestic implementation of the Convention. Sri Lanka had submitted its national report to the Committee, and the Human Rights Commission was currently preparing a parallel report, consulting with civil society actors. The report would offer an independent and objective account of Sri Lanka’s fulfilment of its obligations under the Convention, and amplify civil society perspectives. The Commission called for the Committee’s guidance in this process, and on how best to monitor implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations. Sri Lanka was yet to issue a declaration recognising the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications under Article 31 of the Convention. The Human Rights Commission had a specific mandate to encourage the Government to accept international procedures on human rights, and it was the intention of the Commission to encourage Sri Lanka to issue a declaration under Article 31. The Commission called for guidance on the role national human rights institutions could play in promoting such measures.
Finland Human Rights Centre said it was a relatively young institution engaged in cooperation with domestic institutions and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. Finland had not submitted a report since adopting the Convention months ago. The Centre called on the Committee to produce simple guidelines, educational programs and awareness campaigns to encourage the important participation of national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations in the reporting procedure. The Centre compiled and published information on the implementation of the recommendations given to Finland by different treaty bodies on their website. Sometimes, different treaty bodies addressed the same issues and concerns. Thematic seminars or trainings could increase visibility of the recommendations and encourage the Government to cooperate. The war in Ukraine brought higher numbers of victims of enforced disappearance. Many national human rights institutions in Europe were addressing the issues of these victims and their families. In some cases, national legislation needed to be upgraded to recognise the needs of the families of the missing. Communication between the Committee and national human rights institutions was needed to help non-governmental organizations to address enforced disappearance with greater efficiency.
Statements and Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert stated that online and in-person exchanges with the Committee could be beneficial to national human rights institutes. The Committee could find ways to advance instruments in that regard. Regarding the war in Ukraine, how could the Committee help address the challenging situation on the ground? How was data regarding the disappeared being collected? The Committee and other stakeholders could cooperate to address the victims of enforced disappearances and help achieve full enjoyment of the rights prescribed in the Convention.
Another Committee Expert underscored the importance of contributions from national human rights institutions before, during and after deliberations of State party reports. They could submit shadow reports and contribute to disseminating information on the Committee’s concluding observations. Unfortunately, that did not happen frequently. Civil society organizations and the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions could collaborate more actively. Mechanisms to follow up on the Committee’s recommendations could be established. National and international stakeholders were undertaking concrete efforts to address enforced disappearance in many countries. Concrete recommendations were needed to ensure that the Convention became a reality for everyone in Ukraine.
One Committee Expert said that the Committee had adopted a list of issues regarding Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka had a long history of enforced disappearances, and the general comment in the context of migration was relevant to the country, as it faced migration issues at home and abroad, with reported enforced disappearance of Sri Lankan nationals in Oman being one example.
A Committee Expert thanked the national human rights institutions for their comments. The frequency of exchanges with the national human rights institutions should be increased, and these institutions were well placed to convey information to the Committee, document cases of enforced disappearance and contribute in other regards. The Committee had already expressed concern regarding difficulties in obtaining a declaration of absence for disappeared persons in Peru. National human rights institutions could pick up on the Committee’s recommendations and ensure that they were given appropriate attention. Constant contact was needed, not only in the context of reviewing reports.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, said that the list of issues on Sri Lanka was adopted and Sri Lanka would have one year to respond to these issues. National human rights institutions and other partners would be able to participate in the process. National human rights institutions could also send additional information along with the State’s responses.
The Committee could expand training activities for national human rights institutes, related regional and national fora, and cooperation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. The global congress on enforced disappearance would hold important inter-State dialogue regarding the implementation of the Convention. Topics like harmonising national legislation with the Convention and safeguards for detainees could be addressed.
Responses by National Human Rights Institutions
Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights stated that, regarding the ways in which the Committee could help Ukraine in returning civilians, the problem was that Russia was not complying with the Convention. To carry out such work, persons illegally detained by Russia needed to be found. The help of United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross would be beneficial in terms of accessing places of detention. Russia ignored all international conventions and humanitarian norms, as exhibited by the bombing in Olenivka, which led to the deaths of prisoners of war and hostages. No one was granted the access to the site of the bombing. The first and foremost task was to gain access to places of detention. A working group within the Committee could be set up to focus on obtaining access to such places. In addition, Ukraine had established a joint medical commission with the Red Cross, and Russia needed do the same, but had not reacted to proposals to do so thus far.
INDH de Perú said that it had followed up on the Committee’s recommendations concerning reducing procedures for registering disappeared persons and coordination mechanisms. There were serious risks that there could be more enforced disappearances in Peru. The Committee’s concluding observations could be used to put pressure on the State to uphold its commitments.
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka said that it looked forward to examining the list of issues to be published by the Committee and further cooperating in that domain.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, thanked the Ukrainian Commissioner for coming to Geneva, stating that the Committee would do whatever it could within its mandate to help the State. Ukraine was a State party to the Convention, but Russia was not. That is why the Committee were working with other United Nations mechanisms, such as the Human Rights Council, to address the situation in Ukraine. The work of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances frequently concerned Ukraine.
The Committee supported all endeavours that promoted the rights of disappeared persons and their families, including establishing mechanisms and conducting discussions. Regarding Peru, concluding observations were adopted in 2019, and Peru was due to respond by 2025, however, other information could be received during this period, including on changes in legislation. There was no system of periodic reports, but the system established by the Convention should be utilised. Mr. de Frouville also thanked Sri Lankan representatives for their important inputs.
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