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Human rights council holds separate dialogues on enforced disappearances and on toxics and human rights

Human Rights Council

21 September 2020


The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues with the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes.

Speaking on enforced or involuntary disappearances were the European Union, France on behalf of a group of countries, Iceland on behalf of a group of countries, Afghanistan, Portugal, France, Pakistan, Belgium, Ecuador, Burkina Faso, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Armenia, Maldives, India, Japan, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Morocco, Mexico, China, Honduras (video statement), Botswana, Iran and Cameroon.

Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan spoke as concerned countries.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations : Mouvement contre le racisme et pour l’amitié entre les peuples, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Jubilee Campaign, British Humanist Association, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, International Commission of Jurists, Peace Brigades International Switzerland, International Bar Association, and International-Lawyers.Org.

Speaking on hazardous substances and wastes were the European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, State of Palestine, Pakistan, France, Djibouti, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Libya, India, Senegal, Ukraine, Morocco, Chile, China, Botswana, Iran, Angola, Venezuela, Nepal, Uruguay, Marshall Islands, Russian Federation, Sudan, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Japan, Nauru, Cambodia, Côte d’Ivoire and the United Nations Environmental Programme (video message).

Canada and Brazil spoke as concerned countries.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations : Scottish Human Rights Commission, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Child Rights Connect, Terra de Direitos, Franciscans International, Centre for International Environmental Law, Justiça Global, iuventum e.V., Earthjustice, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

India, Cuba, Israel, Iran, People’s Democratic Republic of Korea, China, Cyprus, Iraq, Armenia, Serbia, Brazil, Pakistan, Japan, Azerbaijan and Croatia spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-fifth regular session can be found here.

The Council will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 22 September, to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the negative effects of unilateral coercive measures. It will then hear the presentation of reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and hold a general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

Presentation of Reports

Luciano HazaN, Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, presenting the report, said the Working Group was concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on enforced disappearances. Investigations had been delayed or suspended, and this facilitated disappearances, especially during compulsory quarantines. The passage of time reduced the possibility of finding the victims alive, he warned. In its annual report, the Working Group listed 699 cases of disappearances. It was concerned about the role of non-State actors, and the invocation of the fight against terrorism to justify forced extraterritorial abductions and forced returns, which contravened the principle of non-refoulement.

On the visit to Kyrgyzstan, Mr. Hazan welcomed the significant legislative improvements, including measures to combat enforced disappearances by criminalizing it. However, on the ground, enforced disappearances continued, he regretted. The principle of non-refoulement must be applied and integrated into national legislation.

In Tajikistan, past violations against civil society had not been addressed, including crimes of enforced disappearance. A process of exhumation, investigation and identification of the remains of missing persons must be carried out urgently. The past could not be put aside, he said.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Tajikistan, speaking as a concerned country, noted with regret that the report was politicized and attempted to present rumours as reality. It disregarded all efforts made by the Government to achieve national reconciliation in times of civil unrest, whereas other United Nations bodies had welcomed these efforts. There was not a single word on the grounds on which the Supreme Court had declared the Islamic Renaissance Party as a terrorist organization. The report also failed to mention that one of the convicted leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party, Muhammadali Hayit, had talked about the intentions of this party to overthrow the constitutional order in Tajikistan and create a fundamentalist State. Tajikistan decisively fought any human rights violations, and even more so violent abductions and illegal imprisonment of citizens.

Kyrgyzstan, speaking as a concerned country, said that thanks to the targeted efforts of the Government of Kyrgyzstan, and close and consistent interaction with international institutions in the field of human rights, there had been no cases of enforced disappearances in Kyrgyzstan’s penal correction system in recent years. Moreover, members of the parliament, representatives of the Ombudsman's Office, as well as representatives of the Kyrgyz National Centre for the Prevention of Torture regularly visited pre-trial detention centres. Despite the significant successes of Kyrgyzstan in the field of enforced disappearances, there were, unfortunately, still some issues in this field, in particular, as regarded the failure to provide detainees with the rights envisaged by law, which could be equated with a short-term disappearance. However, when such infrequent violations were detected, the relevant supervisory and judicial authorities took appropriate measures.


Speakers welcomed the fortieth anniversary of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances. The very high number of enforced or involuntary disappearances worldwide was worrying, as were the 46,271 cases of disappearances which had not yet been clarified. What kind of special measures could States implement to protect the families of victims? Speakers stressed the importance of consultations with civil society and families of victims, and touted the central role played by national human rights commissions, the media, and truth and reconciliation commissions. States had an obligation to investigate disappearances promptly, even in this particular period.

Interim Remarks

LUCIANO HAZAN, Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, said the Working Group had published, along with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, a series of guidelines to mitigate the impact of the pandemic as regards enforced disappearances. The Working Group strictly operated within the ambit of its mandate, he assured.


Speakers stated that individualized answers and follow-up were critical, and that the Working Group had modelled an approach that truly put individuals and families at the centre. They flagged the practice of certain States that sponsored abductions or detained people in camps against their will. Speakers emphasised the need to take measures to realize the right to truth for families of disappeared persons. They denounced reprisals against witnesses of enforced disappearances and human rights defenders.

Concluding Remarks

Luciano HazaN, Chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, highlighted the importance of cooperation amongst States to locate disappeared persons. He stressed the importance of combatting impunity, which was inextricably linked to enforced disappearances.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Hazardous Substances and Wastes

Presentation of Reports

MARCOS A. ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, presenting his report on the duty to prevent exposure to the virus responsible for COVID-19, said no State could meet its human rights obligations without preventing human exposure to hazardous substances, and exposure to the COVID-19 virus was no exception. The pandemic served as a microscope of existing patterns of vulnerability, inequality and discrimination. Environmental degradation, climate change, and land use changes had been key factors in the emergence of COVID-19.

Regarding country visits, Mr. Orellana said his predecessor had found Brazil to be in a state of deep regression from human rights principles, laws and standards, in violation of international law, and called for a Human Rights Council inquiry into its current human rights situation with a special focus on environmental, public health and labour protections, and human rights defenders.

Many communities in Canada continued to be exploited by toxic exposures.

Marginalized groups, and indigenous peoples in particular, found themselves on the wrong side of a toxic divide, subject to conditions that would not be acceptable elsewhere in Canada. His predecessor remained optimistic that Canada would embrace the many opportunities to transition to a cleaner, healthier and more equitable economy.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Brazil, speaking as a concerned country, said despite all the information provided by the State to the Special Rapporteur, he had decided to follow a path of unconstructive criticism in the report. Recommendations made by the previous Special Rapporteur clearly overstepped his mandate, and did not go along with the spirit of dialogue and collaboration that Brazil had demonstrated. Brazil would not accept attempts at politicized tutelage under the guise of a technical mandate. The Special Rapporteur had failed to consider that licensing processes were not only dependent on health considerations, but also on climate considerations and farming conditions, inter alia, that varied from one region to another. The situation of human rights defenders was strongly addressed by the Government.

Canada, speaking as a concerned country, said it was actively engaged in the global chemicals and wastes agenda as a State party to all of the global chemicals and waste conventions and was an active participant in the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. The protection of vulnerable populations was a key consideration in Canada’s chemical risk assessments and risk management activities under the Chemicals Management Plan. Canada had a duty to meaningfully consult with indigenous peoples on initiatives that may impact their health, environment and/or rights. Many indigenous peoples were disproportionately exposed to harmful chemicals in their communities and the presence of contaminants in their food, water and soil. The path forward must include high quality and culturally appropriate health systems designed by and under their leadership.


Speakers, concurring with the Special Rapporteur’s analysis, stated that the responsibility to prevent exposure to hazardous substances in the COVID-19 context lay with States. In particular, speakers highlighted the need to jointly consider economic imperatives along with public health, the environment and needs and rights of the most vulnerable segments of the population. All COVID-19 products, including the eventual SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, should be treated as a global public health good and shared equitably between developed and developing countries. Some speakers urged the Special Rapporteur to address in his next report the dire impacts of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment.

Interim Remarks

MARCOS A. ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said that, in order to avoid duplications and foster synergies, he would focus on three priorities : environment justice and racism, international treaties on chemicals and wastes, and human rights responsibilities of business for toxic exposure.


Speakers, pointing out that 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19 originated in animals, reiterated their commitment to countering the illegal trade in wildlife and protecting biodiversity. Some speakers expressed concerns about the use of toxic chemicals in genetically modified organisms and monocultures, and the impact of the international business treaties on toxins. Outlining key findings of the Special Rapporteur’s predecessor, Baskut Tuncak, regarding Kosovo, other speakers called on the United Nations to stop ignoring the recommendations of its Special Procedure mandate holders.

Concluding Remarks

MARCOS A. ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, emphasised the importance of international solidarity. He also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had been accompanied by waves of misinformation and fake news.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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