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COMMITTEE ON ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES ADOPTS PAPER ON COOPERATION WITH CIVIL SOCIETY
14 November 2013

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this afternoon adopted a paper titled ‘the relationship of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances with civil society actors’ after discussing a similar draft paper on relations with national human rights institutions this morning with representatives of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions. 

Suela Janina, Committee Member, introduced the final paper on relations with civil society, saying the Committee believed that civil society played a key role in the discharging of its mandate and in particular played a key role in assisting victims of enforced disappearance to access the Committee.  She described the clauses of the nine-part document in detail. 

In the morning meeting, Lawrence Mushwana, Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions, via video message, said that research showed that States with an independent and effective Paris Principles-compliant national human rights institution were more likely to ratify international human rights treaties and meet reporting obligations.  He offered suggestions for the Committee’s draft paper on interaction with national human rights institutions and spoke about how his country, South Africa, could take a leading role in advocating for the Convention on Enforced Disappearance.

Katharina Rose, Representative of the International Coordinating Committee, made general observations on the Committee’s interaction with national human rights institutions, emphasizing the importance of making treaty bodies more accessible to national stakeholders, such as by webcasting sessions and using video conferencing when it was not possible for a national stakeholder to travel to Geneva.  The Committee was greatly concerned by reprisals against those cooperating with United Nations human rights mechanisms and would welcome a focal point among the Committee.

Emmanuel Decaux, Committee Chairperson, said that the human rights treaty bodies needed to standardize the way they worked with national human rights institutions as they were neither States parties nor non-governmental organizations.  He agreed that a permanent focal point should be appointed from Committee Members to liaise with national human rights institutions on cases of reprisals. 

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances will next meet in public on Friday, 15 November, when it will hold a press conference, at 1.15 p.m. in Room XII of the Palais des Nations, followed by a public meeting at 3 p.m. to conclude the session.

Statements

LAWRENCE MUSHWANA, Chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, spoke via video message from South Africa.  He said the International Coordinating Committee greatly valued the opportunity to discuss with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances the development of a paper on cooperation with national human rights institutions.  Critically, research showed that States with an independent and effective Paris Principles-compliant national human rights institution were more likely to ratify international human rights treaties and meet reporting obligations.  The International Coordinating Committee offered the following suggestions for the Committee’s consideration: Firstly, that the paper took into account the unique role of national institutions within the treaty body system and domestic infrastructure.  Secondly, that the paper ensured effective participation of national institutions at all stages of the Committee’s work.  Thirdly, that the paper supported efforts to increase the accessibility of the treaty-body system to national-level actors. 

The Convention on Enforced Disappearance was a landmark treaty that brought new hope to the victims of enforced disappearances and their families, said Mr. Mushwana.  In South Africa, the reconciliation process at the end of the apartheid era required cases of enforced disappearance to be addressed.  However, many families in South Africa still did not know what had happened to family members who were disappeared during apartheid.  Its history placed South Africa in a position to take a lead in advocating for the Convention and the work of the Committee.  The International Coordinating Committee looked forward to the opportunity of developing training for national institutions with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to ensure that the Convention and its relevance to national situations worldwide was well understood, as were opportunities for national institutions to engage with the Committee.

KATHARINA ROSE, Representative of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, made general observations on the development of a paper on the Committee’s interaction with national institutions, which would serve to strengthen the implementation of the Convention at the national level, saying that the International Coordinating Committee would welcome a reference in the paper to the importance that national human rights institutions comply with the Paris Principles.  Ms. Rose spoke about the unique role that Paris Principles-compliant national human rights institutions had to help bridge the implementation gap between international and national human rights systems.  The International Coordinating Committee welcomed efforts to make treaty bodies more accessible to national stakeholders, including timely information-sharing by the Secretariat and also the webcasting of Committee sessions in all United Nations languages, as well as the use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing when it was not possible for a national stakeholder to travel to Geneva. 

The International Coordinating Committee was greatly concerned by acts of reprisals and acts of intimidation against those cooperating with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms, including reprisals against national human rights institutions as a result of their work, Ms. Rose said.  The establishment of a focal point among Committee members to address cases of reprisals would be welcomed. 

Ms. Rose highlighted ways that the Committee could enhance its engagement with national human rights institutions, such as the opportunity for them to meet privately in advance of a State party’s review.  In cases of a review in the absence of a State report, national human rights institutions could be invited by the Committee to provide an alternative report.  National human rights institutions could be invited to comment on measures taken by a State party to implement concluding observations.  National human rights institutions welcomed the opportunity to contribute to days of general discussions and the development of the Committee’s general comments.  In the event of a Committee visit to a State party, the Committee may wish to seek and receive information from national human rights institutions in advance, including meeting with them for a formal hearing.  Finally, in relation to communications, national human rights institutions had an important role particularly in assisting victims of enforced disappearance to make use of the procedure. 

In conclusion, Ms. Rose recalled the Chairperson’s remarks at the opening of the session when he said the historical dimension and human tragedy of enforced disappearances bestowed the Committee with all its legitimacy and the legal force of its mandate, but it must be modest in its respective roles vis a vis the Convention and its implementation.  Similarly national human rights institutions had to acknowledge their own limitations as well as the challenges they faced.  The International Coordinating Committee was committed to supporting national human rights institutions in their engagement on the Convention and with the Committee at both the national and international level.

EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee, said there was a need for the treaty bodies to standardize the way they worked with national human rights institutions and coordinate a common stance on their position.  National human rights institutions were not States parties and nor were they non-governmental organizations, and they could not simply be slotted in with one or the other.  The next States parties to be reviewed would be Germany and the Netherlands, Mr. Decaux said, noting that the Netherlands was in the process of trying to set up a new national human rights institution.  Committee Members would be happy to attend a meeting of the International Coordinating Committee to speak about their work and were similarly available to meet with representatives of national institutions, whether accredited or not.  Mr. Decaux agreed that a permanent focal point should be appointed among Committee Members to liaise with national human rights institutions on cases of reprisals, and that would be taken further at the sixth session in March 2014.

Discussion with Committee Experts

In the ensuing discussion an Expert said it was important to look at the logistics and process of how national human rights institutions fit into the United Nations human rights mechanisms and how they interacted with treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council.  The way in which a national human rights institution behaved demonstrated how independent it truly was, he commented, giving the example of a national institution that would sit alongside the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Minister of Interior Affairs of a State party and came as part of a delegation.  There should be separate seating, away from States, for national human rights institutions at both the Human Rights Council and in treaty bodies.   Some institutions were not independent and defended the State’s administration because they wanted to be re-elected.  The International Coordinating Committee really had to take that issue on board as such behaviour undermined national human rights institutions worldwide.  Another Expert commented that national human rights institutions should similarly ensure that there was not a Government representative in their number, as that could intimidate and undermine their message. 

Paper on the Committee’s Relationship with Civil Society

EMMANUEL DECAUX, Chairperson of the Committee, said that many national human rights institutions, non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations had commented on the draft paper.  The Committee took these comments into account and used them to amend the draft as much as possible.  The idea was that the document served as a roadmap, not a theoretical document.  The paper included the issue of reprisals and looked at the contribution that civil society could make to the Committee’s work. 

SUELA JANINA, Committee Member, said the Committee believed that civil society played a key role in the discharging of its mandate.  In particular, non-governmental organizations played a key role in assisting victims of enforced disappearance to access the Committee.  The document was organized into nine parts, each connected with the Committee’s mandate.  It dealt with the role of civil society actors in the reporting process of the Convention: namely consultations and input to the State party report by civil society; submission of civil society reports for the list of issues; civil society reports and presentation of oral information; civil society reports under the Committee’s follow-up procedure to concluding observations; and civil society reports under the review procedure (examination in the absence of a State report).  The document set out the role of civil society actors in relation to the urgent action procedure of the Convention.  It examined the role of civil society actors in relation to the individual communications procedure of the Convention.  The role of civil society actors in relation to country visits by the Committee, and their role in bringing to the attention of the Committee information related to widespread or systematic practices of enforced disappearances, were also set out. 

Furthermore, said Ms. Janina, the document addressed the role of civil society actors in addressing women and children’s rights and in integrating a gender perspective, as the impact of enforced disappearances on women and families was of particular interest to the Committee.  The role of civil society actors in bringing reports on reprisals to the Committee’s attention was a key section in which the Committee decided to appoint a Rapporteur on reprisals.  The document also included sections on input to the drafting and use of the Committee’s general comments and to days of general discussion by civil society.  Finally, it welcomed and encouraged civil society to enhance global outreach, and welcomed the use of technology to enhance contributions from all regions during its sessions, such as video or telephone conference links and webcasting.  Furthermore the Committee would ensure its sessions were accessible by persons with disabilities.  It also encouraged civil society actors to make independent efforts to translate the Committee’s documents into local languages.  The Committee particularly encouraged civil society actors to draw upon the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, observed on 30 August, to carry out their outreach and awareness-raising activities. 

The Committee then adopted document CED/C/5/R.1 titled ‘The relationship of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances with civil society actors’ by consensus.

Document CED/C/5/R.1 will be available on the Committee’s website, in English, French, Russian and Spanish, in the next few days.


For use of the information media; not an official record

CED13/011E