24 October 2013

Press Conference on Enforced Disappearances, Internally Displaced Persons

24 October 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Enforced Disappearances, Internally Displaced Persons

Enforced disappearance was a global crime, with numerous past cases still unsolved and new cases emerging all over the world, senior United Nations human rights experts said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Ariel Dulitzky, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said that, since its creation in 1980, the Group had received more than 55,000 cases of enforced disappearance, with 42,000 cases from 84 countries still pending.

He was joined by Emmanuel Decaux, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, and Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.  The three experts had presented their annual reports to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) earlier today.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/4077.)

Mr. Dulitzky said that, although crimes of enforced disappearances had often been associated with Latin America in the past, today they were observed in many different regions in the world.  Indeed, in 2013 alone, the Working Group had received complaints on 208 new cases from 21 countries.

Enforced disappearances were not a police mistake or an accident, he stressed, but rather “[…] a technique of terror.  They are part of a premeditated crime that was thought of and conceived of in advance.” 

He also pointed out that they were not a crime of the past for two reasons:  first, enforced disappearances continued to occur today; second, cases from the past remained unsolved, with families and relatives of victims still not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their beloved ones.

In addition to opening cases of enforced disappearances, the Working Group was also mandated with visiting countries concerned to monitor the situation of enforced disappearances.  It had recently concluded a visit to Spain which focused on the issue of more than 100,000 persons who disappeared in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.  Today, families and relatives of the victims were still asking for truth and seeking justice and reparations.

While acknowledging the progress that had been made in many countries, Mr. Dulitzky said the Work Group remained concerned about the patterns of impunity observed in other countries, in particular with the use of amnesty laws to preclude investigations on crimes of enforced disappearances.

Also of concern to the Working Group was the safety of human rights defenders and lawyers working on enforced disappearance issues, who were often targets of threats, intimidations and reprisals.  He called for Governments concerned to provide protection and to identify, prosecute and punish perpetrators.

The use of modern technologies, particularly DNA identification, had helped with searching and identifying victims of enforced disappearance, Mr. Dulitzky noted.  Still, many countries still lacked the political will to look for people who had disappeared.  He urged countries concerned to extend invitations to the Working Group for visits, in order to monitor the situations and assess related progress and challenges.

Emmanuel Decaux, Chair of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said the relatively new body was charged with monitoring the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which had been adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 and entered into force in 2010.  To date, it had 40 State parties.

Mr. Decaux also said the Committee had entered the implementation phase by examining the reports submitted by State parties, beginning with country reports from Uruguay and France.  Germany, Argentina and other countries were in the pipeline.

He said in addition to presenting their country reports to the Committee, State parties were also required to establish a good definition of enforced disappearance, which was a complicated legalistic term.  It could be an individual crime, or a systematic one, in the case of crimes against humanity.  Both aspects needed to be taken into consideration when establishing a definition.  The Committee’s mandate also included conducting country visits to assess situations.  Although it had not accomplished any visit yet, it was currently in negotiation with certain States.

Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the Human rights of Internally Displaced Persons, said his recent missions had included visits to Sudan, Georgia, Serbia and Kosovo.  He also planned to visit South Sudan in November and Sri Lanka in December this year.  The current priorities of his mandate were to look for durable solutions for internally displaced persons, and to move forward the implementation process of the Kampala Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa.

In his report to the Third Committee, he had appealed to the international community to resolve internal displacement with concerted and consolidated efforts.  While stressing that States bore the primary responsibility for finding solutions for internally displaced persons, cooperative and coordinated efforts by Governments, humanitarian and development organizations, other international partners and internally displaced persons themselves were crucial in the process of ending displacement.  His report contained a set of recommendations for States affected by displacement, donor countries and the international community.

Asked about follow-up to last year’s attack on the Nahibly camp for internally displaced persons in Côte d'Ivoire, Mr. Beyani said that he had reported the incident to the Human Right Council.  The Government then informed him that it had identified the suspects and would prosecute them.

Responding to a question on the situation in Sri Lanka, Mr. Dulitzky said that there were still more than 55,000 pending cases before the Working Group.  Most of those cases had been reported in 1988-89, while others in the late 1990s or early 2000s.  The Working Group was asking to visit the country to assess the situation.  Mr. Decaux said that, as Sri Lanka was not a State party to the Convention, his Committee’s work did not involve that country.

As for Turkey, Mr. Dulitzky said there were more than 60 pending cases, with most of them reported in the early 1990s.  Although the Turkish Government had been constantly providing information on several cases, the Working Group believed that the information was not enough to clarify those cases; they remained open in the database.

Asked whether the reports of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances had been made public, Mr. Decaux said they were available online.

Responding to a question about the number of victims who disappeared in the Spanish Civil War, Mr. Dulitzky said that, because the Government of Spain had never conducted any formal investigation to establish the exact number, the Working Group was not giving any specific number.  The number of more than 100,000 disappearances used by the Working Group as a reference was based on a criminal investigation opened in 2006 by Judge Baltazar Garzón of Spain, who mentioned the number in his judicial decision.  The Government had a map of more than 3,000 common graves, many of which had never been opened or exhumed to determine the identities of who was buried.  Further, the Government did not have any plan to ascertain the fate or whereabouts of those who had disappeared.

On a question about the situation in Abyei, Mr. Beyani said his trip to Sudan had been focused on Darfur.  Due to security reasons, he had not gone to Abyei, South Kordofan or Blue Nile.  However, he said he hoped that on his trip to South Sudan later this year, he would be able to access adjacent areas to get a clearer picture.

Responding to a question about the United Nations peacekeeping mission’s rule of engagement in Côte d'Ivoire in reference to the internally displaced persons camp attack, he said different missions had different mandates and rules of engagement.  For that specific mission, the rule clearly indicated that the mission could not “protect civilians from other civilians” and could only get involved when there was an armed attack from a military force.

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