4 May 2020
The Committee on Enforced Disappearances opened its eighteenth session today in an online meeting, hearing from the Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee’s Chairperson, as well as the mother of a victim of enforced disappearance.
Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that today’s opening was significant. It was the first time in the history of treaty bodies that a Committee held a session online. By taking this step, despite the huge efforts and concessions it had required, the Committee was demonstrating that the Convention remained a reality for all States and for all victims of this heinous crime, whatever the circumstances. The Convention was clear: no exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance. This principle obviously applied in the context of COVID-19. By no means could COVID-19 be an excuse for disappearing people. The Convention was also clear when it stated that the search and investigation of disappeared persons should be carried out without delay, whatever the circumstances. All treaty bodies, together with the secretariat, were taking steps to avoid that the spread of the pandemic convert into a spreading protection gap. The 2020 Review of the General Assembly’s 2014 resolution on treaty body strengthening remained a priority. It should bring the necessary adjustments to resolution 68/268, including the needed resources to be able to respond to the challenges facing the system. The formal annual Chairs’ meeting from 1 to 5 June 2020 – to be held either in New York or virtually – was essential in this context.
Olivier de Frouville, Committee Vice-Chairperson, reading a statement on behalf of Mohammed Ayat, Committee Chairperson, because of technical problems, said that, through this online session, the Committee wished to reiterate its constant commitment to support the victims of enforced disappearance, and to assist States in the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. Despite the General Assembly resolution of 2014, the Committee had not been able to use the extra week of work it had been granted because it had not gotten necessary human resources to support its work. This was objectively unacceptable. He expressed hope that the 2020 review process would provide effective solutions to allow the Committee to fulfil its mandate properly. Another important challenge remained the ratification of the Convention. As of today, 62 States had ratified the Convention. This remained insufficient. The strategy adopted so far to encourage the universalization of the Convention must be urgently consolidated.
The Committee then heard, for the first time, a live testimony from a victim of enforced disappearance. Maria Noemie Barbosa Gonzalez from Colombia explained that her son was a victim of enforced disappearance. He was 32 years old when he disappeared on 7 June 2014. She had been fighting for over five years to find him. The Colombian Government had not given her the support a mother of a disappeared person could expect. She had filed an urgent action request with the Committee, which had responded immediately, and continued to support her, forwarding information it received from the State, and responding to her questions. The Committee also continued to send letters to the State, to ensure it continued searching for her son. While waiting for her son to be found, she found solace in knowing the Committee was present. She implored the Committee to continue providing assistance to victims to ensure the authorities did what needed to be done to find those who had disappeared.
Carmen Rosa Villa Quintana, Committee Member, speaking on behalf of Mr. Ayat and the Committee, thanked Ms. Barbosa Gonzalez. She, like all victims of enforced disappearance, served as an example of perseverance, courage, life and love. Victims were the Committee’s raison d’être. She said the Committee reiterated its unswerving commitment to Ms. Barbosa Gonzalez, as well as other victims of enforced disappearances, as it urged States to fulfill their obligations under the Convention.
Ms. Barbosa Gonzalez thanked the Committee Members for their advice and support, and expressed hope that God provide them with perseverance to assist all victims.
During the meeting, the Committee adopted its agenda and programme of work for the session. In the following private meeting, the Committee examined and adopted lists of issues related to the efforts of Panama and Brazil to implement the provisions of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The reports of States parties scheduled to be considered during the eighteenth session have been postponed to the nineteenth session.
The Committee then suspended the eighteenth session.
All documents relating to the Committee’s work can be found on the session’s webpage.
The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at hsttp://webtv. un. org/.
The Committee is scheduled to next meet on Monday, 7 September to close its eighteenth session, either online or in person. The Committee is then expected to open its nineteenth session, which is scheduled to be held from 7 to 25 September 2020.
For use of the information media; not an official record