Council holds interactive dialogue with Experts on enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and internally displaced persons
7 March 2011
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held a clustered interactive dialogue with Jeremy Sarkin, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
Jeremy Sarkin, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, said that since its creation, the Working Group had transmitted 53,337 individual cases to Governments in all regions of the world. Over the past five years, the Working Group had clarified 1,814 cases. Much work therefore remained to be done. Enforced disappearances remained a global problem occurring worldwide and, in particular, in States suffering from internal conflict. Thousands of cases of disappearances remained unclarified and consequently, they remained continuous crimes. The Working Group drew attention to the underreporting of disappearance cases in all regions of the world including Africa. The phenomenon occurred for various reasons, including poverty, illiteracy, fear of reprisals, weak administration of justice, ineffective reporting channels, institutionalized systems of impunity, a practice of silence, restrictions on the work of civil society and unfortunately a lack of awareness about the Working Group and its mandate.
El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, noted that in 2010 the Working Group had paid particular attention to arbitrary detention in connection with armed conflict and in this regard the International Criminal Court had confirmed the applicability of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflicts. The Geneva Conventions and their Optional Protocols sought to achieve the same objectives as international human rights law, namely protection of human rights, and it was imperative for all governments to respect the international norms not only in times of peace, but also in times of armed conflict. The Working Group believed that no State should secretly deprive a human being of their freedom. Secret detention was a form of enforced disappearance and if applied systematically could constitute a crime against humanity. The Working Group had sent 102 urgent appeals to a number of governments concerning almost 3,000 persons and welcomed the freeing of three individuals, in Ethiopia, Viet Nam and Myanmar. A number of cases submitted by the Working Group concerned children.
Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, said it was estimated that 50 million persons were displaced by natural disasters in any given year and that many millions would be forcibly displaced due to the effects of climate change in the coming decades. The recognition of climate change-induced displacement in the Cancun agreement represented an important step forward and a constructive platform from which to develop normative standards and strengthen collaborative efforts. A further objective of the Special Rapporteur's mandate was to support the follow-up processes related to the ratification and implementation of the Kampala Convention, which represented a major achievement by African Union Member States to protect and assist internally displaced persons. The issue of women and internal displacement required focused attention to mainstream their rights in the United Nations system. Regarding the response to internally displaced persons living outside camps and settlements, the Special Rapporteur said the response to these situations remained largely ad hoc and that it would be important to look into good practices which already existed among a number of organizations.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia, Malaysia, and Iraq spoke as concerned countries.
During the interactive dialogue regarding enforced or involuntary disappearances, speakers said the right to truth was extremely important and was critical to the victims of enforced disappearances and their families. The right to truth was an autonomous right and was clearly linked to the right to justice. Other speakers welcomed the actions of the Working Group on enforced disappearances which was the first thematic procedure set up in the field of human rights and during the 30 years in existence the Working Group had clarified 10,000 cases, however, another 40,000 cases remained to be clarified. It was important to ensure that the Working Group on enforced disappearances had the necessary resources and, taking in account its heavy workload; the Working Group needed greater resources than other Special Procedures and this had to be kept in mind. Enforced or involuntary disappearances were serious violations of international law and could be considered as crimes against humanity. The resolution of these issues required a global approach and should balance the right of families to know the fate of family members and to compensate victims with the need of the authorities to guarantee the non-reappearance of these crimes and the need to protect witnesses and victims of these violations.
With regards to arbitrary detention, a speaker noted that this was a subject that needed to be addressed by international law. The Working Group was basing its work on the premise that no human being could be deprived of their freedom in secret and this applied in situations of armed conflict too. Persons in detention were entitled to due process and this right was not guaranteed in secret detention. It was alarming that secret detention was still being used to combat various scourges. The Working Group was encouraged to closely follow allegations of arbitrary detention in situations of public unrest and to continue to provide protection in situations of armed conflict. Reports of the detention of journalists were of particular concern and it was important to respect the professional independence and the rights of journalists in accordance with international standards. The fact that the law of armed conflict was devoid of effective mechanisms for implementation and reparation did not mean that individuals were left with no international protection. Legal avenues provided by human rights law should continue to be available to the victims.
Concerning the human rights of internally displaced persons, speakers noted the efforts of the Special Rapporteur with regard to displacement provoked by climate change and agreed that more in-depth work in this area was needed, not only in terms of norms and standards, but also in terms of coordinated global responses. Enforced displacement in Africa, particularly in the context of armed conflict, was affecting women, and speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur that more needed to be done to ensure their protection and to help them rebuild their lives on a more sustainable basis. On a positive note, internally displaced persons were no longer viewed as solely a national problem and there was growing understanding for the need of humanitarian action for people affected by displacement. However, the frequency of natural disasters had increased noticeably in recent decades and climate change continued to affect the lives and livelihoods of many, especially in developing countries. Speakers agreed with the Special Rapporteur's insistence on the need to address environmental drivers of displacement, such as climate-induced natural disasters.
In the interactive discussion, the following countries also spoke: the African Union, Azerbaijan, Paraguay on behalf of the Southern Common Market MERCOSUR, Argentina, Japan, Cuba, Thailand, Zambia, Georgia, Chile, Nepal Norway, the United States, Spain, Nigeria speaking on behalf of the African Group, Brazil, European Union, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Algeria, Iran, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Djibouti, Iraq, China, Angola, Austria, the Russian Federation, Morocco, France, Australia, Turkey, Switzerland, Colombia, Pakistan, Congo and Peru.
Speaking in right of reply were the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Japan and Armenia.
Speaking in second rights of reply were Georgia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Azerbaijan, Japan and Armenia.
The next meeting of the Council will be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 March when it will hold all day meetings to conclude the interactive dialogue on enforced and involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detention and internally displaced persons and then start interactive dialogues with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, the Special Representative for the Secretary-General on violence against children and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children.