Committee on Enforced Disappearances Holds Meeting with Non-Governmental and Intergovernmental Organizations
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances today held an informal meeting with non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations.
Non-governmental organizations speaking in the meeting addressed issues including the Committee’s concept note on short-term enforced disappearances; cooperation with the Committee; pushbacks of migrants in Europe, especially in the Western Balkans and Greece; cases of disappearances in Brazil, Spain, Colombia, Rwanda, Eritrea, the Philippines and elsewhere; legal developments regarding ratification of the Convention and criminalisation of enforced disappearances in various States; the Committee’s visit to Iraq and proposed visit to Colombia; and developments in Colombia in the context of the peace agreement.
Closing the session, Olivier de Frouville, Chair of the Committee, said it was important for non-governmental organizations to promote ratification of the Convention in States that had not ratified, as well as follow up on specific situations in different countries. He thanked all who had participated in the meeting, especially the courageous victims of enforced disappearance who had given statements and the related organizations that were engaging with such victims. Civil society would continue to monitor the implementation of the Convention. Without it, human rights mechanisms would simply not work.
Speaking in the dialogue were representatives from Border Violence Monitoring Network, Vladimir Herzog Institute, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance, Berridatzi Elkartea, Alumbra, Caribe Afirmativo, International Commission on Missing Persons, COFADEH, IBON International Foundation, Corporación Colectivo Sociojurídico Orlando Fals Borda, the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, and other non-governmental organizations from Eritrea, Rwanda and Colombia.
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 Thursday, 28 September at 3 p.m. to hold an event to launch its first general comment on enforced disappearances in the context of migration.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, opened the meeting, welcoming the representatives of non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations and saying that he was looking forward to a fruitful exchange.
During the session, over the past three weeks, 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 1,605 such urgent actions in some 30 countries, the most being for Iraq and Mexico. Through these, 473 people had been located, of whom over 443 had been found alive, showing how useful the procedure was. 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. Regional congresses would be held first, prior to the global one, during the first half of 2024.
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. All the different bodies wanted to adopt a common approach. It was very important to provide assistance to the victims of cross-border adoptions. 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 reporting procedure, 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 sought for ways to integrate Convention provisions into the migration context. 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 also had held intensive consultations with civil society organisations, regional organisations, academia and victims on the general comment, receiving a large amount of substantial feedback. The community of civil society organisations needed to work together to help implement the general comment.
MILICA KOLAKOVIC-BOJOVIC, Committee Vice-Chair, said that the general comment was developed for non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, in efforts to support and push governments to implement the Convention better. The most important period, apart from the previous three years, would be the following period. The Committee would support non-governmental organizations to better understand and disseminate the general comment. There were important differences between different regions, hence the expertise of non-governmental organizations was important. Non-governmental organizations were important partners in disseminating information on the general comment and monitoring its implementation. Once non-governmental organizations were familiar with the content of the general comment, they would be able to better disseminate it and apply it in cooperation with all stakeholders.
JUAN PABLO ALBAN ALENCASTRO, Committee Rapporteur, said Colombia had submitted an initial report in 2014, and participated in a constructive dialogue with the Committee in 2016. Concluding observations were adopted and additional information was requested. The Committee held a discussion on this additional information in 2021. After issuing new concluding observations, the Committee had requested a country visit. At the time, the Government declined the request. Nonetheless, the Committee insisted, and following a change of Government, there might be a new opportunity to conduct a visit. Cooperation with other stakeholders was crucial to point out the significance of such a visit.
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 interpretative declaration and publish the concept note during its September 2024 session. The Committee was interested in receiving further inputs from various stakeholders.
Statements and Questions by Non-Governmental and Intergovernmental Organisations
Border Violence Monitoring Network said that their coalition was working across the Western Balkans and Greece, documenting violence and pushbacks of migrants. Over 25,000 pushbacks, including enforced disappearances, were recorded in 14 countries across Europe. Most victims were subjected to detention for less than 12 hours in Greece and Croatia. The continued use of improvised detention sites was documented, and such secret detention was concealed from monitoring activities. The destruction of phones was also widely documented, which violated rights to information. The Network called upon the Committee and the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearance to investigate this issue, as well as the growing criminalisation of organizations dealing with those disappearances.
Vladimir Herzog Institute said they were working in Brazil, addressing the history of military dictatorship and the present situation. The Institute was obstructed during the era of the Bolsonaro regime, but its relationship with the Government was now being reconfigured. According to available information, a particular municipality for years was subjected to various regulation and control in 2019 due to a series of disputes, leading to an invasion ending in the massacre of 15 young people and the enforced disappearance of six. The military police were used firearms and knives in this incident. People were interrogated and tortured, followed by their public murder by the militia. Several were found burned, and additional people were missing.
Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance said it had led a campaign on “short term” enforced disappearances and lobbied for the enactment of a domestic law criminalising enforced disappearance as an offence distinct from kidnapping and serious illegal detention in the Philippines. The law adopted in toto the definition of enforced disappearance under the Convention. The Anti-Enforced Disappearance law and its implementing rules and regulations protected persons not only from prolonged but also from short-term disappearance by penalising violations of the right of any person deprived of liberty to immediately inform all interested parties about their whereabouts and condition; the duty of authorities to input vital information in the mandatory register of persons deprived of liberty immediately upon arrest or detention; and the duty of the public officials who discovered that a person subject to inquest or investigation was a disappeared person to immediately disclose the person’s whereabouts to all stakeholders by the most expedient means. Enforced disappearance was enforced disappearance, regardless of duration.
Berridatzi Elkartea called on State parties to adapt their domestic laws to international laws, particularly in the domain of enforced disappearance. Prohibition of access to information relating to murders and enforced disappearances prevented general reparation and led to inexcusable impunity and revictimization of families. This was a key obligation of democratic States. It was vital to ensure that no authorities were above these principles. States needed to immediately evoke sentences that had been handed down erroneously and establish multidisciplinary teams to support victims and families. The United Nations’ support was essential in this regard. There were still serious violations in countries like the Kingdom of Spain, which continued to uphold secrets from 1975, and information kept being hidden to this day. Very little was done; Spain’s law addressing past abuses was unconstitutional.
Alumbra said that it was the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an opportune time to address human rights violations. Human rights violations were part of the joint complaint presented to the Committee on 31 August on enforced disappearance in Spain. The speed of progress in Spain was slow. DNA databases were incomplete; mothers were being forgotten. There had been psychological mistreatment, torture and disappearance of children. These children should not be left missing; they needed to be found.
Caribe Afirmativo from Colombia addressed the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning persons in the context of armed conflict and enforced disappearances. 47 requests were made for the search of such persons.
Sound issues affected interpretation of Caribe Afirmativo’s statement.
International Commission on Missing Persons said that in agreements on identifying missing persons, ideological barriers could emerge. Human conflict, disasters and other forms of disappearances constituted the focus of the International Commission. It was investigating violations of the right to family life and other rights, as well as torture. Appropriate commemoration of the missing was important. Cooperation with victims’ families regarding access to rights and remedies was specifically important. An inclusive definition of missing persons and recognition of human rights violations were the cornerstones of this understanding.
COFADEH said that the response received by States to the work of the organisation was underwhelming. It had led a campaign calling for the adoption of a bill in Argentina for victims of enforced disappearance, the draft of which it had submitted to the Government. The draft included five pillars of transitional justice. Remembrance, truth and justice would be guaranteed through this legislation. The bill could play a crucial role in recognising the rights of the disappeared and their families.
IBON International Foundation said there had been a sharp increase in enforced disappearances under the current administration in the Philippines. The law remained largely ineffective. The Convention was not ratified. After two persons were disappeared, the Government declared these persons as “public enemies”. Search efforts were launched. The Foundation called on State agents to stop the practice of demonising victims and charging them with crimes. Also, psychosocial assistance was needed for victims’ families. Additionally, the Foundation called on the Philippines to ratify the Convention and collaborate with the families of the victims, civil society organizations and others in that regard. Bolstering the capacity of all professionals was essential for addressing the enforced disappearances.
Corporación Colectivo Sociojurídico Orlando Fals Borda said that peace agreements led to the establishment of a truth commission in Columbia. The Committee needed to follow-up on activities conducted by the State to investigate enforced disappearances and prevent the crime. Some progress was made. Various cases were labelled as “death in combat” and were not recognised as a pattern of extrajudicial crime. The Committee needed to pressure the State, including the Prosecutor’s Office, to investigate all aspects surrounding case 07. The Committee needed to urge the agents of the State to acknowledge their participation in these events, to help locate victims and provide access to truth. A search unit was set up, but there was a clear lack of will to clarify the cases of enforced disappearances and an insufficient budget. Exhumation of remains had been ordered. These remains were being transferred to forensic repositories, but genetic evidence was not being processed due to lack of resources, including staff and instruments. The dignity of the victims was not respected. A framework for searches for victims of enforced disappearance and cross-border cooperation was needed.
A non-governmental organization from Eritrea discussed cases of enforced disappearance forgotten since the State’s independence in the 1990s. The Eritrean Government was a member of the Human Rights Council but it did not want to disclose information on the victims of human rights violations, including foreign citizens.
International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination discussed the response surrounding the Committee’s Iraq country visit. Committee Experts made a contribution to the debate regarding the large number of enforced disappearances in Iraq. However, Government officials were failing to follow the Committee’s recommendations. Only one draft law on enforced disappearance had been prepared, and it had been pending Parliamentary review for a very long time. Could the Committee comment on the willingness of Iraqi officials to publicly commit to addressing enforced disappearance? What information could be given to other stakeholders in Iraq?
European Human Rights Advocacy Centre said that they used international legal mechanisms to document human right abuses in Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere. Over 100 cases of enforced disappearances in the Chechen war were documented and information was submitted to competent courts. Currently, the Centre was focused on enforced disappearances in the North Caucasus district of Russia. It would be pleased to share information from its database with other interested parties.
A non-governmental organisation from Rwanda spoke about the use of technology in the context of finding victims. Many victims were targeted for speaking about these issues in Rwanda. Four years had passed since the disappearance of the speaker’s two brothers. Many cases of enforced disappearance were documented in Rwanda. What could the Committee do to address these?
A non-governmental organisation from Colombia said it worked with the local community in Colombia living near the Ecuadorian border. The region was plagued by conflict and enforced disappearances. Support was needed for victims and progress needed to be made in investigations. The conflicts in the region should be understood in their different historical contexts. A search unit was set up by the State’s peace agreement. The Columbian State did not recognise people who disappeared after the past period of conflict. What could be done to address these cases? Where did the responsibility lie? Support was needed for the grassroot organisations who investigated civil conflicts.
Responses and Comments by the Committee
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Expert, thanked the Border Violence Monitoring Network for their useful contributions to the general comment and statement regarding pushbacks.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Expert, said the Committee hoped for a positive response to its request to visit Columbia. The State should be answering the report made in concluding observations in 2021. Information from civil society organisations helped the Committee to focus on key measures in State party reviews. Only 30 States had accepted the Committee’s competence to assess individual complaints. The Committee’s report on its visit to Iraq was an important tool for non-governmental organizations to use to communicate the essential points of the Committee’s recommendations.
FIDELIS KANYONGOLO, Committee Expert, suggested that civil society organisations in Rwanda and elsewhere should promote increased ratification of the Convention. While the Committee could help, there were limits when a State had not ratified the Convention.
JUAN PABLO ALBAN ALENCASTRO, Committee Rapporteur, thanked speakers who referred to short-term disappearances and to the disappearance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning persons and other identities.
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair of the Committee, said it was important to promote ratification of the Convention in States that had not ratified, as well as follow up on specific situations in different countries. He thanked all who had participated in the meeting, especially the courageous victims of enforced disappearance who had given statements and the related organizations that were engaging with such victims. Civil society would continue to monitor the implementation of the Convention. Without it, human rights mechanisms would simply not work.
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