The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning met with States, during which its draft general comment on enforced disappearance in the context of migration was discussed. The Committee also discussed its working methods under the rubric of treaty body strengthening.
Committee Chairperson Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana called on States to consider how to make more resources, staff and structures available to the Committee so that it could fulfil its mandate. With limited time and human resources, the Committee was dealing with an increasing workload: In addition to the reports of the States parties to be examined, the Committee held intersessional activities promoting the Convention and the general comments to States and examining contributions received from stakeholders, States, civil society, and academics.
Olivier de Frouville, Committee Member, recalled that the authors of the Convention did not want the Committee to adopt the system of periodic reports used by the other Committees. When the Convention was drafted, States insisted on the need to give priority to the flexibility of the procedure, adapting it to the real needs of each State. They also recognised that even if all States were equal with regard to their treaty obligations, the question of enforced disappearance did not arise in the same terms for all States.
On the draft general comment on enforced disappearance in the context of migration, Committee Vice Chairs Milica Kolakovic Bojovic and Barbara Lochbihler explained that the draft aimed at providing guidance to States and other actors on how to take action to prevent enforced disappearance and to protect and support the victims.
In addition to 40 written contributions received by the Committee, it heard interventions from Honduras, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Serbia, Argentina and Croatia, which reiterated their support for the Committee’s work and presented their national experiences with enforced disappearances.
All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at https://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee will next meet in public at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, 23 September to close its twenty-third session.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chair, stated that the annual meeting with the Member States of the United Nations was a key opportunity to exchange on the Convention, its implementation and the projects that were being developed under the Committee mandate. The presence of Member States today was a demonstration of their commitment to the prevention of enforced disappearances and their support to the Committee, as well as their commitment to make the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance an instrument of effective implementation.
The Committee wanted to increase the spaces of interaction with States which were parties to the Convention, but also with States that were not. It was a matter of joining forces against enforced disappearances, and promoting the ratification of the Convention. The crime of enforced disappearance was horrendous and absolutely unacceptable, hence article 1 of the Convention was a milestone in recognising that “No one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance.” Its prohibition was therefore absolute. Eradicating and preventing enforced disappearance required the maximum effort of all, States, civil society organizations, as well as members of the Committee to accompany the victims and facilitate their access to truth, justice and reparation.
Enforced disappearance was not a matter that concerned only the victims, their relatives or organizations that supported them, it concerned all, society and States. Despite those obvious realities, the number of States parties to the Convention remained very small, as only 68 States had joined the Convention. The commitment enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, which imposed on States the obligation to promote universal and effective respect for human rights, was expressed in the universal ratification of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which remained today an urgent priority. It was the most continuing way to ensure the real commitment of all States against enforced disappearances.
Draft General Comment
MILICA KOLAKOVIC-BOJOVIC , Committee Vice Chair, as co-rapporteur on the draft general comment on enforced disappearances in the migration context, said that the goal of the United Nations was to be sensitive to the needs of people worldwide and particularly to human rights violations. The work of the Committee was not so easy in practice, as the Convention had been created out of the need to react to the increasing existence of enforced disappearance. The largest number of enforced disappearances was related to dictatorship regimes, and over time it had evolved and new forms had appeared. Nowadays, there were thousands of victims of enforced disappearance associated with armed conflicts, armed crimes, notably by non-State actors and related to migration. Mass migration movements meant a large number of migrants were at risk of enforced disappearance.
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Vice Chair and co-rapporteur on the draft general comment on enforced disappearances in the migration context, explained that disappearances along various migration routes were widely reported. There were many reports about disappearances, but there was little discussion about the legal obligations of States. The Committee aimed to provide authoritative guidance on enforced disappearances in the context of migration and was working on what States parties should implement to ensure full compliance with their obligations. It intended to provide clear positions on issues that were virulent in many countries, and requested feedback on the investigation of secret detention of migrants, the obligation of mutual assistance, on non-refoulement and on pushbacks, and particularly on the right to protect the rights of the victims.
Remarks by States
Honduras welcomed the report prepared by the Committee and explained that the country had marked a milestone when it classified enforced disappearances as a crime. The dramatic situation the country was facing with lots of migrants moving north resulted in the State implementing good practices, such as laws on migrants and family members, the creation of a unified database to search for migrants, and providing psychosocial support to help find missing migrants.
Ecuador expressed its support for the text of the draft general comment on enforced disappearance in the context of migration, which reflected the language of international instruments on the subject. The draft general comment recognised the need to protect migrants who might be exposed to enforced disappearances. Ecuador’s national legislation recognised the right of people to migrate and not to identify any human being as illegal because of their migratory status. The need for international cooperation to complement national efforts to bring domestic legislation into line with the provisions of the Convention was reiterated.
Mexico commended the work of the Committee, as it was fundamental to strengthening the institutional capacity of States. Mexico welcomed the draft general comment, in particular the elements focusing on enforced disappearance in the context of migration as they would help States to identify specific areas to combat it further. Mexico also welcomed the proposed innovation around the procedures for States parties, and highlighted the importance of the urgent action procedure. In the Mexican legal system, urgent actions formed part of the right of effective appeal.
Peru explained that the country had made significant progress in the past years as the State provided food, housing and psychosocial support to more than 2,000 family members of victims of enforced disappearance. In 2021 Peru had drawn up a national plan for searching for those victims. The country had the highest commitment to comply with its international commitment on enforced disappearances, and emphasised the importance of national entities responsible for investigating enforced disappearances as well as enforcing borders.
Serbia said that the country was proud to say that it was among the States that had ratified the Convention at an early stage of the process, adding that its region was a good example as the Convention was ratified by almost all States there. Serbia extended its support to the initiative of the draft general comment and expressed its full support to the implementation of the Convention.
Argentina recognised the work of the Committee to which it gave the highest importance. What were the reasons the Committee wanted to broaden the scope of article 2 of the Convention, given that the consensus of the drafters of the Convention was not to consider non-State actors as being responsible for enforced disappearances? According to international law, it was the States alone that were responsible for enforced disappearances and on whom the responsibility rested, the delegation said.
Croatia noted that a large number of enforced disappearances were due to conflict. With regard to enforced disappearances registered in 1985, institutional searching had been implemented as early as 1991. The fundamental obstacle to a more effective resolution of the issue was the lack of reliable localisation of mass graves, as a significant amount of documentation was still in the hands of Serbian authorities. Croatia asked for Serbia’s cooperation in finding the 1,800 people still missing.
BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, Committee Vice Chair, thanked the delegations for describing the situations in their countries and for referring to their national plans for action which they had developed. Some of the new instruments designed nationally were commendable, she said, and highlighted how unique they were. There was a need for more inter-State cooperation to make the search for victims of enforced disappearance more successful. The States’ feedback would be looked into, in particular in relation to the management of borders.
MILICA KOLAKOVIC-BOJOVIC , Committee Vice Chair, said the first draft would be developed between two sessions, and during its next session, the Committee would discuss the first draft of the general comment. The next step would be to organize the next general discussion, and the final stage would be to adopt the general comment. That process would have several stages, and it would require the support and dedication of the Member States.
Treaty Body Strengthening
OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Committee Member, recalled that the authors of the Convention did not want the Committee to adopt the system of periodic reports used by the other Committees. When the Convention was drafted, States insisted on the need to give priority to the flexibility of the procedure, adapting it to the real needs of each State. They also recognised that even if all States were equal with regard to their treaty obligations, the question of enforced disappearance did not arise in the same terms for all States.
It was therefore provided that under Article 29, each State should submit a report within two years of joining the Convention, and that at the end of the constructive dialogue with the State, the Committee could decide whether or not to request additional information from the States parties. There were therefore no “periodic” reports to the Committee.
During the first phase of its existence, the Committee had asked all States to submit additional information on all the recommendations made in its concluding observations within either 6 or 3 years, with the short period being reserved for States facing an ongoing practice of enforced disappearance. However, despite efforts to improve its working methods, that procedure proved too cumbersome to allow the Committee to fully carry out its mandate within a reasonable timeframe and without accumulating a significant backlog of reports. It had been calculated that if the Committee were to continue its work in that way, considering the state of resources available to it and without taking into account any new State parties, it would catch up on its backlog in March 2032.
The Committee had therefore developed a new procedure for requesting additional information under article 29, paragraph 4, of the Convention based on the two imperatives of adaptability to each situation on the one hand; and predictability and coordination with the other Committees on the other. By applying that procedure, the Committee believed that it would be able to progressively reduce the number of reports and lighten the burden on States while continuing to fulfil its monitoring mandate effectively.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chair, noted the importance of immediately sending requests to States parties concerned in urgent action cases. It was equally important to examine the requests for urgent actions and validate the proposal to accept the request. The majority of previous reports had been examined outside of Committee sessions in the inter-sessional period. She agreed with Olivier de Frouville on the real need for additional meeting time.
MOHAMED AYAT, Committee Vice Chair, said that meetings with Member States were very important as it was a time when the Committee could solemnly reiterate its commitment to fulfil its mission. It was also a moment when Committee members listened attentively to the comments and interventions made by States. Regarding the workload, the quantity of work the Committee got through had virtually doubled. The Committee had been operational for nearly 10 years; during that time, the number of ratifications by States had doubled, with now 68 States parties. The Committee had gone from a phase of activation of procedures that increased the number of dialogues necessary. There had also been an exponential increase of requests made by family members, and the Committee had now started visiting certain countries to determine the situation there. Recognising the effort made by the Secretariat to cope with the workload, he said three additional working weeks were needed, in addition to the current four working weeks.
CARMEN ROSA VILLA QUINTANA, Committee Chair, invited all to make use of all the material that had been recently published on the jurisprudence of the Committee, as well as the handbook on the Convention.