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Committee on Enforced Disappearances Opens Twenty-First Session

13 September 2021

New Committee Members Juan Albán-Alencastro from Ecuador and Suela Janina from Albania Make Solemn Declaration

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this morning opened its twenty-first session, to be held in a hybrid format, during which it will examine the initial reports of Brazil and Panama on their implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as well as the reports on additional information of France and Spain, and the reports on follow-up to concluding observations of Bolivia and Slovakia.

As the session would be the last of his term as Chairperson of the Committee, Mr. Mohammed Ayat noted progress achieved during that term, despite the particularly difficult circumstances associated with the pandemic. The Committee had adopted lists of issues addressed to non-reporting States Parties; two of the States concerned submitted their reports after receiving those lists. The Committee had also made progress in implementing the supplementary information reporting procedure and had increased its activities to make its work more visible. Measures were also taken to maximize the participation of victims and civil society organizations in the work of the Committee and to strengthen its cooperation with human rights mechanisms in Africa and the Americas.

The session was opened by Mr. Ibrahim Salama, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He noted that in addition to considering State party reports, the Committee would consider the periodic report on urgent actions. He expressed alarm at the "appalling figures" of 400 urgent action requests registered by the Committee since the beginning of the year, double the total number of requests in 2020. Those figures showed the urgency for all States to formalize their commitment to ending enforced disappearances by ratifying the Convention. However, that process remained slow. To date, only 64 States were party to the Convention, the latest being Sudan which ratified the Convention last August.

A human rights defender, Mrs. Amina Masood Janjua, also spoke to the Committee about her struggle since the forced disappearance of her husband 16 years ago in Pakistan. Ms. Barbara Lochbihler, member of the Committee, spoke in response to the testimony.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday, 13 September, to consider the initial report of Brazil (CED/C/BRA/1).

Opening statements

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed the Committee’s two new members, Juan Albán-Alencastro from Ecuador and Suela Janina from Albania. He also paid tribute to the outgoing Chairperson, Mr. Ayat, under whose leadership the Committee had been the first Treaty Body to hold online dialogues with State Parties. It had also adopted numerous decisions, which strengthened the Committee's procedure and jurisprudence, and the impact of its work. Outlining the programme for the session, he noted that the Committee would consider the initial reports of Brazil and Panama, as well as additional information from France and Spain, and the reports on follow-up to the concluding observations of Bolivia and Slovakia. In that context, the Committee would meet with States parties, victims, NGOs and national human rights institutions. It would also have joint meetings with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Committee would also consider its own periodic report on urgent actions, which analyzed trends in disappearances in 23 States parties. To date, 1410 urgent actions had been registered, including 400 in 2021. That was already double the total number of urgent actions registered in 2020. "These figures are appalling, and represent only a tiny proportion of the hundreds of thousands of victims of enforced disappearances around the world,” he said, adding that the figures showed the urgency for all States to formalize their commitment against enforced disappearances by ratifying the Convention. While the process remained slow, he welcomed the ratification of the Convention by Sudan last August, bringing the number of States Parties to 64.

Mr. Salama also welcomed the positive steps taken in recent months, including the “exemplary” decision adopted by the Mexican Supreme Court last June recognizing the binding nature of the Committee's urgent actions. In addition, on August 30, Mexico officially agreed to receive the Committee. For its part, the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea had adopted a resolution last June calling for the ratification of the Convention. Argentina and France had launched a third ratification campaign. Those were all very positive steps toward promoting the rights and obligations of the Convention, he noted.

However, it was also urgent that member States joined forces to provide the Committee with the meeting time and human resources it desperately needed to fulfill its mandate, he cautioned. In that regard, the ongoing 2020 review process was critical to this end. The contribution of the Committee to the ongoing Treaty Bodies review process was “absolutely essential,” he said, in light of the specificities of Committee procedures.

Two new members of the Committee, Juan Albán-Alencastro from Ecuador and Suela Janina from Albania, made their solemn declarations.

MOHAMMED AYAT, Committee Chairperson, in his opening remarks, noted that the Committee was meeting in person for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that in-person interactions were essential to the Committee’s functioning. Travel remained complicated and the number of people in the meeting rooms was limited. Therefore, the Committee would be meeting at the Palais Wilson, while delegations from States parties, non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions would be participating remotely. The Committee needed to adapt its working methods, while still fully performing its functions, he said.

Reviewing the Committee’s work under his Chairmanship, which would end at the conclusion of the present session, he noted that the Committee had made significant progress in implementing the procedure for consideration of supplementary information reports under Article 29(4) of the Convention. The Committee had also increased its activities to make its work more visible and was now present on social networks.

Measures had also been taken to maximize the participation of victims and non-governmental organizations in the Committee's work. Links with regional human rights mechanisms had been strengthened, including the Committee's participation in the discussions on the guidelines for investigating enforced disappearances in Africa. The Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was to adopt a plan of action at its current session to further strengthen and institutionalize their coordination and cooperation mechanisms.

He announced the publication of a text entitled The Work of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances: Achievements and Jurisprudence Ten Years after the Entry into Force of the Convention, written by Ms. Maria Clara Galvis, a former member of the Committee. The publication reflected the Committee's daily work to support States parties, victims, civil society organizations and national human rights institutions to eradicate and prevent enforced disappearances. It described by theme the evolution of the Committee's jurisprudence in the context of the examination of States Parties' reports. Finally, he noted that paying homage to victims of enforced disappearance was one of the most important moments of the opening of the Committee’s session, and gave the floor to a speaker from Pakistan.

AMINA MASOOD JANJUA, Chairperson of the non-governmental organization Defense of Human Rights, gave testimony on the disappearance of her husband, Masood Janjua, a businessman and educator. On July 30, 2005, Masood and his friend Faisal were traveling to Peshawar on a local bus service and were forcibly disappeared en route. To the present day, there had been no news of their fate. Masood had disappeared during the rule of President Parvez Musharraf, she said. At that time, it had been unprecedented to raise her voice against enforced disappearances, she recalled. “It took me many months before I realized what had happened and that I needed to get up from the bed and start searching for my loved one,” she said. Yet she had protested in front of the Parliament, the Supreme Court and other key locations with her children and many other families of the disappeared. Without training as a lawyer, she found herself pleading before the Supreme Court for Masood, Faisal and eventually for hundreds of other disappeared persons. Over the years, 2818 cases of missing persons had been registered by her non-governmental organization. Of those, 1,358 had resurfaced, while 77 had been found dead in custody.

Although a party to many international human rights instruments including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Pakistan unfortunately had not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, it was noted. But the people of Pakistan had high expectations of the Committee and other human rights mechanisms, she said, welcoming the fact that a bill was currently under discussion to criminalize enforced disappearances. If Pakistan also ratified the Convention, the authorities, with the help of the Committee, would be better able to address the threat of enforced disappearances. She called on Pakistan to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, noting that the country had received over 13 recommendations during the Universal Periodic Review to do so. She further called on the Committee to meet with human rights defenders and Pakistani authorities, and to share its knowledge with non-State parties so they could better lobby for ratification.

BARBARA LOCHBIHLER, member of the Committee, thanked Ms. Janjua for her testimony. Beyond sharing a personal and moving story, she had also described what was so typical of countless other fates: The majority of forcibly disappeared were men, often the sole breadwinner of the family. The ratification and implementation of the Convention at national level should not be seen as an insurmountable burden by governments, but more as a support which helped prevent and fight enforced disappearances, she said, adding that the Committee would intensify its awareness-raising activities with governments and the human rights movement in general in all regions of the world, with Asia being a particular challenge, as only a few countries have ratified the Convention so far.

Ms. Lochbihler stressed, however, that the impact of a UN treaty body had its limits. For change to occur, there must be serious political will on the part of the government to act, and pressure must come from the society of the country concerned. The Committee would approach the Government of Pakistan and urge it to ratify the Convention. That would serve as a complement to the drafting of the national bill criminalizing enforced disappearances, the expert concluded.

The Committee adopted the agenda and programme of work for the session.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found at the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/le-comite-des-disparitions-forcees-ouvre-sa-vingt-et-unieme