Speakers Deplore ‘Total Impunity’ as Committee on Enforced Disappearances Holds Second Meeting of States Parties

28 May 2013

Speakers Deplore ‘Total Impunity’ as Committee on Enforced Disappearances Holds Second Meeting of States Parties

28 May 2013
Meetings Coverage
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

States Parties to Convention

on Protection from Forced Disappearance

1st Meeting (AM)

Speakers Deplore ‘Total Impunity’ as Committee on Enforced Disappearances

Holds Second Meeting of States Parties


Panel Discussion Held as Delegates Urge Ratification, Enforcement of Treaty

Enforced disappearances persisted around the world — most often occurring in total impunity — while the families of the victims struggled in anguish to learn the fates of their loved ones, States parties to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance heard today.

Amid calls for ratification and enforcement of the landmark 2007 treaty, speakers aired those and other concerns during the second meeting of States parties to the Convention as they held a panel discussion entitled “Putting an end to enforced disappearances:  Progress and challenges”.

Moderated by Béatrice Le Fraper du Hellen from the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, the discussion featured presentations by panellists Estela de Carlotto, President, Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo; Angela Boitano, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo; Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor, International Criminal Court; Marta Vasquez, President, Madres de Plaza de Mayo–Línea Fundadora; José Luis Díaz, Representative, Amnesty International at the United Nations; Lidia Almeida, Plaza de Mayo Association; and Ibrahim Salama, Director, Human Rights Treaties Division, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

María Cristina Perceval ( Argentina), who served as Chair of the first meeting of States parties, initiated the panel discussion.

Launching the discussion, Ms. de Carlotto said she represented women who had been investigating the fates of their children and grandchildren for 25 years.  While more than 100 had been found, many others remained missing, she said, urging States parties to ratify the Convention, in particular, article 25, outlining punishment for perpetrators.  Argentina had started to clarify the crime of enforced disappearance in 2003, and today, public trials were under way for both civilians and military members.  “Today, we do have full justice” and a chance to ensure that repressors “are no longer among us”, she declared.  While advanced in age, the grandmothers had strong hearts.  “We will never bend to negotiations to forgive those who have committed such crimes,” she stressed, reiterating their motto:  “Never again.”

Ms. Boitano recalled that more than 30,000 people had disappeared in Argentina, including 10,000 political prisoners, and it was extremely important to ratify the Convention and comply with articles 31 and 32.  Trials were being held throughout Argentina and hundreds of people had been sentenced for the crime of genocide.  Thousands of prisoners had been released and former political prisoners continued to work for truth and justice.  “We will continue until the end of our lives to make young people aware of this history,” she said, voicing hope that all countries facing similar situations would also find solutions.

Ms. Bensouda offered a legal perspective, saying her motto was:  “Use the force of the law against the law of the force.”  She said she had received information on alleged enforced disappearances in Darfur, Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, but noted that, while the Rome Statute defined enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity, not even five claims had been brought before the Court.  It was an understatement to say that the Convention and the Rome Statute shared the goals of prevention, fighting impunity and representing victims.  “Victims are our first beneficiaries.  They are our raison d’être,” she said, expressing hopes of exchanging information with the Independent Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the Convention’s enforcement mechanism.

Ms. Vasquez said that her daughter — Maria Marta — had disappeared with her husband in Buenos Aires on 14 May 1976.  Months later, she had learned that her daughter had been pregnant and had sought information about her grandchild.  “This is one of the most difficult struggles I’ve undertaken,” she said.  In countries such as Colombia, 40 years had passed without answers to what had happened to loved ones.  “We feel they are by our side, giving us the strength.  We need to move forward so — together — we can achieve the ideal of peace, freedom and unity.”  She expressed concern that only 16 of the 38 countries that had ratified the Convention had accepted articles 31 and 32, which recognized the Committee’s competence to consider communications from those claiming to be victims of State violations.

Mr. Díaz said enforced disappearance was among the worst human rights violations, and perpetrators were very rarely brought to justice.  Perhaps, no place on earth showed the impunity of that crime more than Syria, where enforced disappearance featured high on the list of atrocities committed daily.  To be sure, the Convention stated that no exceptional circumstances could be invoked to justify enforced disappearance, and contained a broad definition of victims.  It recalled States’ obligations to fulfil their rights to remedy, and made clear the right to know the truth about the circumstances around disappearances.  It was disappointing that none of the States parties had fully incorporated the treaty into national law, he said.

Ms. Almeida said her son had disappeared in 1975, before the military coup, and was now counted among Argentina’s missing 30,000 people.  Their mothers had battled for 37 years and would continue despite their wheelchairs.  “Countries, please sign, please ratify this Convention,” she said, adding that the right to life was the main human right.

Mr. Salama delivered a statement on behalf of Emmanuel Decaux ( France), Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, saying that since its entry into force in 2010, a new dynamic had gained momentum, with 38 States parties having ratified the treaty, including its newest signatory, Morocco, on 14 May.

Speaking in his own capacity, he said the Committee had since created a “very solid” framework and was fully operational, having adopted rules of procedure and guidelines for reports from State parties.  In a “spirit of partnership and transparency”, it had held joint meetings with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance, met in formal session with the Human Rights Committee and held informal exchanges with the Committee against Torture.  The links between the right not to be “disappeared” and other human rights must be recognized, emphasized, calling for “reinvigorated” support for ratification, the incorporation of a gender perspective and the mobilization of resources.

In two rounds of questions and comments following those remarks, delegates praised the mothers and grandmothers present today, saying their work represented the best of Argentine society.  Many countries, especially in Africa, had followed their struggle.  “You are women who serve as examples,” said Cape Verde’s representative, adding that that offered new hope for defending human rights.  Enforced disappearances were among the worst human rights violations, they said, underlining the need to ratify the Convention and implement it at the national level.

Morocco’s representative said his country’s legislature would vote on the Convention on 13 June.  He stressed the need for political will to establish truth, reconciliation and reparations for victims, declaring:  “We must seize every opportunity to honour the memory of the victims of enforced disappearances.”

El Salvador’s representative said his Government had committed to a domestic consultation process with civil society to determine how the Convention would fit into national legislation.  On 24 April, parliament had received an executive agreement clearing the way for the treaty’s adoption, he said, expressing hope that, by next year, El Salvador could join as a full member of the Convention.

Japan’s representative asked the panellists for their suggestions on how to increase implementation.

Mr. Díaz replied that universal jurisdiction was enshrined in the Convention, but not universally accepted owing to a lack of political will.  It was unknown how many enforced disappearances had occurred in Syria, he said, adding that one step would be to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.  However, that had not happened due to paralysis in the Security Council.

Mr. Salama added that enhancing ratification required constant outreach and capacity-building.

Ms. Perceval ( Argentina), joining the panellists, said the Convention strengthened what the international community had agreed were interdependent, inviolable human rights.  Former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla had described a disappeared person as “neither dead nor alive”, she recalled, describing it as a cruel and horrific statement.  “Our mothers, our grandmothers, are still looking because their loved ones were neither dead nor alive.”  More broadly, enforced disappearances were committed by terrorist States that did not protect their citizens.  “By act or omission, we States are responsible and our societies have a right to call for the universality of this convention and all human rights instruments.”

Ms. Bensouda, responding to concerns about the International Criminal Court’s approach to impunity, said:  “We know who those voices are — those trying to protect the perpetrators of crimes, not those supporting the victims.”  The Court was independent, impartial and strictly applied the law without political consideration, she stressed.  To suggest otherwise was an insult to the victims.

Also participating in today’s panel discussion were representatives of Costa Rica, Uruguay, Mali, Switzerland and Armenia.  A representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also spoke.

In other business today, the States parties elected five Committee members by secret ballot, replacing those whose terms are due to expire on 30 June 2013.  They were:  Mohammed al-Obaidi ( Iraq), Santiago Corcuera Cabezut ( Mexico), Luciano Hazan ( Argentina), Juan José López Ortega ( Spain) and Kimio Yakushiji ( Japan).  Their terms of office begin on 1 July 2013 and end on 30 June 2017.  They join the following members, whose terms expire on 30 June 2015:  Mamadou Badio Camara ( Senegal), Emmanuel Decaux ( France), Alvaro Garcé García y Santos ( Uruguay), Rainer Huhle ( Germany) and Suela Janina ( Albania).

Elected as Chair of the Committee’s second meeting was Martin Briens (France), alongside the following Vice-Chairs:  Ms. Perceval (Argentina), on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States; Abiodun Richards Adejola (Nigeria), on behalf of the Group of African States; and Dragana Šćepanović (Montenegro), on behalf of the Group of Eastern European States.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances will reconvene at a date to be announced.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.