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Panel on the Convention against Enforced Disappearance

26-09-2007 Statement

6th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, statement by Mr Jacques Forster, vice-president International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, 26 September 2007

Mr Chairman,

Mr President of the Council,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure for me to be invited to this Panel to support the launch of the campaign for the ratification of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has actively supported the process of drafting the Convention and - while not a member of the coalition - is committed to achieve its swift and widespread ratification and implementation.

Enforced disappearance constitutes a violation of international human rights and in a time of war is a violation of international humanitarian law. It is tantamount to deleting a person's very existence. It also creates far-reaching and long-lasting traumas for their families. The prohibition of enforced disappearance, like all rules of humanitarian law, allows no exception. No war, no state of exception, no imperative of national security can justify enforced disappearance.

There are three ways of addressing the issue of enforced disappearances and the Convention enshrines all three of them. The first and most important one is to prevent enforced disappearances from happening in the first place. In this sense, the Convention requires States to hold all persons deprived of liberty in officially recognised locations, to maintain up-to-date official registers and detailed records of all detainees, to authorise detainees to communicate with their families and legal counsel and to give competent authorities access to detainees. The second way to address disappearances is to recognise the righ ts of families of those gone missing, especially the right to know the fate of their relatives; and the third is to ensure adequate criminal sanctions against persons who commit enforced disappearances. 

The ICRC works tirelessly to prevent enforced disappearance. In its efforts to prevent people from going missing, the ICRC carries out repeated visits to places of detention, works at restoring and maintaining family links and tries to establish and maintain a meaningful dialogue with the authorities. Last year, ICRC delegates carried out visits to close to 2,600 places of detention in 71 countries. These visits benefited almost half a million detainees. ICRC delegates followed up on over 42,000 detainees who had been previously registered and enabled some 100,000 personal messages to be exchanged between detainees and their families. The ICRC also collects numerous tracing requests from families who are looking for lost relatives. ICRC delegates do everything they can to trace them and inform relatives of their findings, to re-establish family links and, in some cases, to assist families in meeting their specific needs.

The ICRC is also committed to the dissemination of international humanitarian law and to supporting states in ensuring that their national laws protect all persons affected by armed conflict against the effects of the conflict. In this context, the ICRC frequently assists states in setting up national systems to address the plight of missing persons, including through appropriate national legislation. The Convention against enforced disappearance is now part of the reference texts for the ICRC's model law on missing persons.

At the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2003 the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and States committed themselves in the Agenda for Humanit arian Action to respect and restore the dignity of missing persons and their families. There is no doubt that this Convention will contribute to greater protection of persons from enforced disappearance. It needs to be implemented into national law and put into practice through political commitment, adequate measures and training at all levels and sanctions for those who commit unlawful acts. Over 60 States have signed the Convention, and some of them have already started the process of ratification. We welcome these steps and stand ready to provide assistance to States in implementing their international obligations.

Mr Chairman,

Let me, to end, pay tribute to the families of the disappeared. Their quests for answers and their efforts to keep alive the memory of those who have gone missing command our admiration and respect. Their persevering struggle to repair the injustice done and to prevent such acts from happening again elsewhere deserves support. We hope that States will respond to these expectations by ratifying and implementing the Convention.