PRINT PAGE SHARE THIS ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

News & Media

COMMEMORATION OF THE TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION ON THE PROTECTION OF ALL PERSONS FROM ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE
Committee on Enforced Disappearances Participates in an Event Organized by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
30 October 2012

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances participated this morning in an event marking the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was organized by the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances to explore best practices and challenges to protect women from enforced disappearances.

Opening the event, Kyung-wha Kang, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, acknowledged the particular impact of enforced disappearances on women and said that it was important not to consider women solely as victims; many had played a central role in the fight against enforced disappearances and in bringing this heinous phenomenon to the attention of the international community.

Also in introductory remarks, Olivier de Frouville, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, said that the significant legal knowledge accumulated in the 20 years of interpretation of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was also relevant for the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, and stressed that the Declaration remained the document of reference for States that did not yet ratify the Convention.

Emmanuel Decaux, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said that the Working Group and the Committee were complementary and must reinforce each other; they had different mandates and methods of work, but shared the same objective of the fight against the heinous crime of enforced disappearances.  The situation of vulnerable groups such as women and children received particular attention from the Committee which started reflecting on this issue from the very start of its work.

Osman El Hajje, member of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, appealed to the international community not to forget the date of 30 April 1977 when the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, started their historic initiative.  Their insistence to know the truth about their disappeared loved ones had started a process which had led to the establishment of the Working Group in 1980.

Martine Anstett, Deputy Director, Delegation for Peace, Democracy and Human rights, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said that it was unfortunate that the crime of enforced disappearances continued 20 years after the Declaration and 30 years after the establishment of the Working Group.  The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie said a resounding no to this practice.

Jasminka Dzumhur of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, Suela Janina of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and Cornelius Flinterman of the Human Rights Committee participated in the panel on the impact of enforced disappearances on the human rights of women, and noted that the particular obstacles women were facing in accessing human rights and fundamental freedoms could turn into insurmountable obstacles in situations of enforced disappearances.

In the panel on the role of women as actors of change in the fight against enforced disappearances, members of civil society shared experiences in confronting and fighting enforced disappearances and described the process of transformation of women from victims of enforced disappearances to human rights defenders.  Panellist were Nassera Dutour, Chair of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared of Algeria; Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Secretary-General of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances; and Sarah Fulton of REDRESS.

In the ensuing interactive discussion, speakers asked about coordination between the Working Group and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and about the cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and described national experiences addressing enforced disappearances.

Speaking were Argentina, Algeria, a Deputy of the Lebanese Parliament as well as the Geneva for Human Rights organization and the Association of Families of the Disappeared in Algeria.

The commemoration event organized by the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances will conclude on Wednesday, 31 October at 1 p.m.

The next public meeting of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances will be on Monday, 5 November at 10 a.m. when it will present guidelines on State reporting and meet with States, United Nations bodies and specialized agencies, international organizations, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations.

Introductory Statements

OSMAN EL HAJJE, Member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, appealed to the international community not to forget the date of 30 April 1977 when the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, started their historic initiative.  Their insistence to know the truth about their disappeared loved ones had started a process which had led to the establishment of the Working Group in 1980.

KYUNG-WHA KANG, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening remarks recalled that any act of enforced disappearances was an offence to human dignity that denied the very purpose of the Charter of the United Nations and violated fundamental freedoms prescribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The phenomenon of enforced disappearances was not a thing of the past and was happening in various parts of the world and must not be permitted or tolerated.  Ms. Kang acknowledged the particular impact of enforced disappearances on women, left to shoulder the social and economic impact resulting from the disappearance of the family’s main breadwinner.  The psychological and emotional trauma resulting from the loss of loved ones and not knowing their fate and whereabouts was considered to meet the definition of torture or cruel and inhuman treatment by several human rights bodies.  It was important not to consider women solely as victims; many had played a central role in the fight against enforced disappearances and it was thanks to the courage of women that many years ago, notably in Latin America, the heinous phenomenon of enforced disappearances had been brought to the attention of the international community.  In exploring best practices to protect women from enforced disappearances and its impact, it was crucial to take into account the interplay between disappearances and related human rights violations and gender-based discrimination.  It was also crucial to address the socio-economic impact of enforced disappearances and ensure that women’s perspectives were fully taken into account in the development of laws, policies and practices addressing this crime and in particular systems of transitional justice. 

OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said that for 20 years the Declaration had been the only international instrument defining the rights of victims of enforced disappearances and guiding States in preventing them, punishing the perpetrators and providing redress to victims and their families.   The legal knowledge accumulated by the Working Group was relevant also for the Convention on Enforced Disappearances which was binding for States parties to this treaty.  It was important to note that the Declaration remained the document of reference for States that had not yet ratified the Convention.  The impact of enforced disappearances on women and children, both as victims and the family of those disappeared, had been on the agenda of the Working Group for many years.  The issue of women disappeared was a complex and multifaceted issue and the Chair-Rapporteur said that mechanisms for the protection of women needed to be taken into account in coordination efforts between various bodies such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice.

EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said that the Working Group and the Committee were complementary and must reinforce each other; the next joint meeting must establish simple and clear rules to strengthen cooperation between the two bodies and ensure that work took place in mutual trust and with respect for the competence of each body.  The two bodies had different mandates and methods of work, but shared the same objective of the fight against the heinous crime of enforced disappearances.  The Chairperson thanked the Working Group for their support in drafting the Convention and paid tribute to the accumulated legal knowledge that existed within the Group.  There was a need to think of ways of transposing the provisions of the Convention into domestic law.  All must think about the universal ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances of 2006 which was the most elaborate international instrument in this sector.  The awareness raising efforts also related to substantive issues and the Committee paid particular attention to the situation of vulnerable groups such as women and children and had started reflecting on this issue from the very beginning.

MARTINE ANSTETT, Deputy Director, Delegation for Peace, Democracy and Human rights, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, said that the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie now numbered 77 Member States and Governments.  The Organization was committed to democracy, the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights; it regularly reaffirmed the right to life, dignity and fair and accessible justice and governed its operations in line with the Bamako Declaration.  It was unfortunate that the crime of enforced disappearances continued 20 years after the Declaration and 30 years after the establishment of the Working Group.  The Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie said a resounding no to this practice, wished to find justice for families and encouraged States to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.  The protection of women against abuse and the fight against impunity were key parts of the Organization’s approach and she hoped that the event today would provide support for the Working Group in its central task of prevention in assisting States in overcoming obstacles to preventing enforced disappearances. 

Panel 1: Impact of Enforced Disappearances on the Human Rights of Women

JASMINKA DZUMHUR, Member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances said 30,000 persons had been victims of enforced disappearances during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  From her interviews with women, it emerged that recognition was crucial for the assessment of the impact of enforced disappearances on the human rights of women.  This required the recognition of women as victims of enforced disappearances; the recognition of women as relatives of victims of enforced disappearances; and the recognition that women were victims of gender-based and sexual violence.  Gender equality as a principle was possible to use in societies where its measures were equal; in other societies special measures must be taken to empower women.  The Working Group assessed the impact of enforced disappearances on human rights based on the existing legal basis for the protection of women, the type of institutional approach and coordination between different institutions, the existence of social and health measures for the protection of women victims of enforced disappearances, the existence and activities of organizations of women victims, and the professional standards and sensitization of civil servants who worked with those women.

SUELA JANINA, Member of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said that the Committee had recognized the special impact of the phenomenon on women and that it made them particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.  During its second session in March 2012, The Committee had held a thematic discussion to deepen understanding of the provisions of the Convention on the situation of women and children.  Article 1 of the Convention protected without distinction all persons from enforced disappearances: men and women, boys and girls, while enforced disappearances of pregnant women were seen by the Convention as especially disturbing events.  The Committee had stressed that guarantees under the Convention must be available to men and women alike.  The Committee paid special attention to the situation of women victims of enforced disappearances and in its reporting guidelines requested States to provide information about enforced disappearances on women, together with gender disaggregated data on enforced disappearances.  Discussions would orient the Committee to develop a gender-sensitive approach to enforced disappearances which would be integrated in its future jurisprudence.

CORNELIUS FLINTERMAN, Member of the Human Rights Committee, stressed that women faced particular obstacles in accessing human rights and fundamental freedoms, which in situations of enforced disappearances turned into insurmountable obstacles.  The Human Rights Committee had found that enforced disappearances constituted a violation of many rights and violated the prohibition of torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, both for victims and their relatives.  The Committee had given remedies to the victims, such as the obligation of States to undertake investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances, provide information about the whereabouts of victims, release victims immediately or release remains to families, prosecute those responsible and provide restitution to families.  Enforced disappearance of women was the most heinous form of violence against women and it was through the lens of violence against women that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was approaching the issue of enforced disappearances.  Much of its jurisprudence and recommendations were related to protecting women from enforced disappearances and its impact.  This Committee was also undertaking the very important work on the role of women in conflict and post-conflict settings and on the participation of women in transitional justice.

Panel 2: The fight against Enforced Disappearances: the Role of Women as Actors of Change

NASSERA DUTOUR, Chair of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria, said that enforced disappearances continued to be used today throughout the world.  Twenty years ago it had been impossible to imagine that there would one day be a Declaration on the Protection from Enforced disappearances.  Ms. Dutour’s son had disappeared and she described dealing with this experience, fighting for the truth and against enforced disappearances, including setting up of the Association.

AILEEN DIEZ-BACALSO, Secretary-General of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, said that wives of disappeared were labelled as half-widows in the South-Asian context, and that they and their children, particularly daughters, suffered numerous forms of discrimination, stigmatization and violence.  Women victims of enforced disappearances in Asia had become a formidable force and, refusing to be cowed by the horrors of enforced disappearances, transformed themselves from pathetic victims to human rights defenders.

SARAH FULTON, International Legal Officer, REDRESS, said that the fight for justice in enforced disappearances cases had contributed to clarifying and developing international human rights law, particularly as it related to the victim’s rights and reparation.  The areas of major impact were the understanding of who was a victim; elaboration of State’s responsibilities to investigate cases of enforced disappearances, involvement of victims and their families and development of the right to truth; and the crafting of holistic reparation measures to understand, respond to and prevent such violations.

Discussion

Argentina asked about coordination between the Committee on Enforced Disappearances and the Working Group on involuntary and enforced disappearances.  Algeria said that on numerous occasions, the Algerian Government had appealed to put situations of disappeared persons in Algeria in the context of the wave of terrorism that Algeria had suffered from.  A Deputy in the Lebanese Parliament asked about cooperation between the Working Group on involuntary and enforced disappearances with the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Geneva for Human Rights organization said the terrorism circumstances in Algeria explained the enforced disappearances but did not justify them.  Algeria pointed out that the Algerian Government was cooperating with the Working Group. 

OLIVIER DE FROUVILLE, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said the role of the Working Group was to support dialogue and find solutions.  On cooperation between the Working Group and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, he said that work on the question on the role of women had started before the adoption of the Convention in 2006.  This process and discussion was continuing today in consultation with the Committee.  On cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross, he said the role and function of the two bodies were very different.  Their roles were complementary and cooperation was active.

EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said the Committee was a new body.  It had already discussed the methodology of cooperating with the Working Group. 

Association of Families of the Disappeared in Algeria said that it would be respectful in its intervention and it deserved respect for its fight for truth and justice, as this fight was hard and dangerous.  All families of victims of enforced disappearances and of terrorism worked hand in hand to find the truth and justice.  Algeria invited the speaker for the Association for Families of the Disappeared in Algeria to learn about the work of the Algerian national institute for human rights which had worked as a good faith intermediary between the State and victims and their families.

JASMINKA DZUMHUR, Member of the Working Group on Enforces of Involuntary Disappearances, said it was crucial to demand the opinion of an independent organ or body when there was controversy on the subject of numbers of disappeared persons. 


For use of the information media; not an official record

CED12/007E