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Concerning the draft International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance

01-11-2006 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 61st session, Third Committee, item 68 of the agenda, Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 1 Novembre 2006

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Mr. Chairman,

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would like to thank you for this opportunity to address the question of enforced disappearance in the context of the report of the Human Rights Council and more specifically the Council's recommendation to adopt an International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The ICRC is deeply concerned about the fate of forcibly disappeared persons who are abducted, detained, sometimes killed, and their families and friends kept in the dark about their fate.

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 and denying him or her, the basic protection of the law to which every man and woman is entitled whether guilty or innocent. It is a violation of that person's rights and the rights of his or her family. The damage to the bereft, who continue to hope against all hope, is far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting not only individuals but the societies in which they live. The passage of time brings no relief from the anguish or anger they suffer from.

The prohibition of enforced disappearance, like all rules of humanitarian law, allows no exception. No war, no state of exception, no imperative reason of national security can justify enforced disappearance. Just as no State, group or individual is above the law, no person can be placed outside the law: enforced disappearance tries to do just that.

This is why this Convention is so important. It is the first international treaty to explicitly ban practices leading to enforced disappearance. This 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. All these obligations are critical to prevent enforced disappearance.

The Convention also enshrines the right of families to know the fate of their relatives, one of the pillars on which all rules on missing persons must rest. Further, it requires States to incorporate the crime of enforced disappearance into their own legislation, to investigate cases of disappearances and to prosecute and punish perpetrators accordingly. If enforced disappearances are kept silent and go unpunished, the memory of the missing persons will haunt the societies in which such acts are covered up.

Mr. Chairman,

For its part, the International Committee of the Red Cross is working tirelessly to prevent enforced disappearance. For the ICRC, the strongest safeguards against people going missing in armed conflicts consist of repeated visits to detainees and working at restoring and maintaining family links. Last year, ICRC delegates carried out visits toclose to 2,600 places of detention in 76 countries. These visits benefited more than half a million detainees. ICRC delegates also followed up on over 46,000 detainees who had been previously registered and enabled som e 100,000 personal messages to be exchanged between detainees and their families.

ICRC's registration of persons deprived of liberty contributes to preventing disappearances and enables the ICRC to follow up on detainees individually and to search actively for their whereabouts. 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.

Mr. Chairman,

Still much more needs to be done against enforced disappearance. 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 Humanitarian Action to respect and restore the dignity of missing persons and their families. The ICRC therefore calls on all States to put even more effort into preventing persons from going missing, ascertaining their fate and alleviating the suffering caused by those disappearances.

Enforced disappearance is a phenomenon that exists in different parts of the world and produces anguish, fear and unspeakable sorrow for thousands of families. The ICRC witnesses this plight everyday in its work. The urgency of the need to eradicate the phenomenon of enforced disappearance is too great to delay the adoption of a new treaty that outlaws it. There is no doubt that the Convention the General Assembly is invited to adopt will contribute to greater legal protection of persons from forcible disappearance.

Families'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 from the community of States and the public at large.

The ICRC pays tribute to the courage of families who are kept in the dark about their relatives and strongly urges all Member States of the United Nations to adopt the Convention at this session and to ratify it as swiftly as possible.

Thank you.