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COMMITTEE ON ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES OPENS ITS ELEVENTH SESSION IN GENEVA

Elects Santiago Corcuera Cabezut as Chairperson
3 October 2016

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning opened its eleventh session at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, hearing an address by Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Committee elected Santiago Corcuera Cabezut as its Chairperson and adopted the agenda for the session.

Ms. Gilmore, in her opening remarks, thanked the Committee Experts for their leadership in this hardest area of human rights work, and stressed the importance of not allowing any enforced disappearance to be converted into forgetting, invisibility or neglect.  Over the past year, the Committee had received more than 600 requests from families to take urgent action, but this was only the tip of the iceberg.  Enforced disappearances continued, and yet, the support for the Convention by States was insufficient.  That was why it was important for the Committee to think how to galvanize that support.

The Committee elected Santiago Corcuera Cabezut as its Chairperson for a period of two years.  The composition of the Committee’s Bureau will be discussed later this week.

Emmanuel Décaux, the outgoing Committee Chairperson, said he was encouraged by the increase in the number of States parties to the Convention, which to date stood at 52, and the number of reports submitted to the Committee.  He took stock of the progress made in cooperating with other treaty bodies, including on reprisals, and outlined next priorities, on the issue of engagement with national human rights institutions and with other treaty bodies, and ensuring that the draft convention on preventing crimes against humanity contained a strong definition of enforced disappearances.

Mr. Corcuera Cabezut, the new Committee Chairperson, recognized the work of the Committee to date, particularly on article 30 of the Convention, and its statement on the administration of justice by military courts.  There was a need for the Committee to encourage greater ratification of the Convention, particularly among Asian States, and also to encourage greater recognition of the competence of the Committee in hearing individual cases.  Not having enforced disappearances in the country should not be used as an excuse by States not to ratify the Convention.

Ms. Gilmore and Ibrahim Salama, Director, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, responded to questions from Committee Experts concerning the peace process in Colombia, next steps in the implementation of resolution 62/682 on the treaty bodies strengthening process, and strategies to achieve universal ratification of the Convention.

The Committee then adopted its agenda and held a minute of silence in remembrance of victims of enforced disappearances.

Live webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available at http://webtv.un.org/

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 4 October, to begin its consideration of the initial report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CED/C/BIH/1).

Opening Address

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her opening remarks, thanked the Committee for its leadership in this hardest area of human rights work, and stressed the importance of not allowing any enforced disappearance to be converted into forgetting, invisibility or neglect.  The countries with the greatest number of enforced disappearances were Iraq and Sri Lanka, and that was where the work of the Committee was especially important.  Over the past year, the Committee had received more than 600 requests from families to take urgent action - this was only the tip of the iceberg; enforced disappearances continued, and families continued to languish in uncertainty.  However, the support for the Convention by States was insufficient, and that was why it was important for the Committee to think how to galvanize that support.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights deeply valued the work of the Committee on this issue which it considered of extreme importance, and Ms. Gilmore urged the members of the Committee to think how to increase the cooperation.

Statements

EMMANUEL DÉCAUX, outgoing Committee Chairperson, said that the tenth anniversary of the entry into force of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance would be soon celebrated, and noted with satisfaction that the number of States parties since then had grown from 20 to 52.  The number of reports submitted to the Committee was encouraging, which pointed to the need for more time to be allocated to the Committee for the consideration of reports. Mr. Décaux noted the progress made by Chairpersons of treaty bodies on the adoption of the San Jose Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals and expressed hope that the next Chairperson would continue to make progress on the issue of engagement with national human rights institutions and with other treaty bodies.  The Committee had a regular, two way communication with the Chairperson of the Working Group on enforced disappearances, as well as with the International Law Commission, which was working on drafting a convention on the prevention of crimes against humanity; enforced disappearances could be seen as a crime against humanity and therefore it was very important that the definition of enforced disappearances would not be diluted and watered down. 

SANTIAGO CORCUERA CABEZUT, Committee Chairperson, in his first address as Chair to the Committee, stressed that relatives of disappeared victims were the reasons for which the Convention, the Committee and the Working Group on enforced disappearances existed.  The commitment to address the indescribable suffering of disappeared persons and their relatives, and their trust into the Committee, fed and justified the Committee’s work.  Mr. Corcuera Cabezut noted the work of the Committee on Article 30 of the Convention, as well as its statements, including on the administration of justice by military courts, which provided interpretative guidelines for access to justice in the area of enforced disappearances.  To date, only 52 States were parties to the Convention, 96 were signatories - the Committee needed to encourage the ratification of the Convention, particularly among Asian countries, and also encourage greater recognition of the competence of the Committee in hearing individual cases.  No country, no person, no organization, could be in favour of the heinous practice of enforced disappearances, which caused so much suffering to victims and to their families.  Stressing the preventative functions of the Convention, Mr. Corcuera Cabezut said that not having enforced disappearances in a country should not be used as an excuse by a State not to ratify the Convention.

Discussion

In response to Experts’ questions, Ms. Gilmore said that the aspiration and promise of universal human rights obliged all to be unrelenting in the determination to support Member States in keeping promises they made, including those contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It took quite a bit of machinery and a lot of determination to detect human rights violations, and a deep moral commitment to those reporting the violations, in particular enforced disappearances.  On the situation in Colombia, Ms. Gilmore said that the results of the referendum were a setback, noting that those who were closest to the conflict yearned most for the peace.  It was important to think about victims and their families.  The Deputy High Commissioner recalled the courage and determination of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina to shine the light on the truth and hoped that Colombia would find courage and inspiration from their example.

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Director, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the implementation of the resolution 62/268, said that treaty bodies in their functioning gave life to the human rights norms; it was easier to create and sign up to the norms, than it was to implement them.  States had agreed to resolution 62/268 on the treaty bodies strengthening process; the treaty bodies and their Experts had done their part, and now it was up to the States to follow through on the report on the implementation of the resolution; the Office was confident that more resources would be allocated to the treaty bodies.  It was the moment of truth for the States, to live up to their responsibility.

Concerning the universality of the Convention, Ms. Gilmore said that it was inexplicable that there would be any hesitance to decry disappearances, and a resistance to the ratification of the Convention, and said that the expectation of the Office was to achieve universal ratification.  It was up to the human rights system to make it very difficult for States to explain why they did not ratify – it was too easy right now to step away and do nothing.  The Office was exploring different avenues to increase ratification, including through the Universal Periodic Review, the work with the United Nations Resident Coordinator, and – once the General Assembly agreed - the increasing of the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights outside of Geneva to facilitate strategic engagement with Member States on strengthening the normative framework, including on enforced disappearances, and developing strong partnerships with civil society.  The demand for disappearances to disappear was a universal one.



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CED16/009E