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Human rights questions: implementation of human rights instruments

24-11-2005 Statement

United Nations, General Assembly, 60th session, Third Committee, item 71(a) of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross, New York, 24 November 2005.

Mr. Chairman,

We thank you for giving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the floor to speak on an issue which is very closely linked to its mandate to bring protection and assistance to victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence – the issue of missing persons and their families.

There is probably not one single armed conflict in which there are not great numbers of families that are separated in the course of the violence, a separation that always causes untold suffering.

As highlighted in previous occasions before this body, the ICRC has taken several initiatives with a view to preventing the separation of families, based on the principles and rules of international humanitarian law. It was very pleased that the Agenda for Humanitarian Action, which was adopted by the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent less than two years ago, gives such prominence to the question of missing persons.

In addition, through its wide presence   in the field, the ICRC endeavours to help members of families dispersed by armed conflict to re-establish contact with each other and be reunited.

For example, in 2004, the ICRC collected and distributed more than 1.3 million Red Cross Messages and established the whereabouts of more than six thousand persons for whom tracing requests had been filed by their families. It helped more than 2'700 persons to rejoin their families. The ICRC also issued travel documents that enabled almost ten thousand persons to return to their home countries or to settle in a host country.

Mr. Chairman,

The ICRC warmly welcomes the recent conclusion of the drafting of a Convention protecting persons from enforced disappearances. We commend the achievement of the Working Group to elaborate a legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances .

This marks significant progress in efforts to prevent enforced disappearances world-wide. The ICRC congratulates the States and others – including family representatives of individuals who have disappeared – that took part in negotiations to finalize the draft. The ICRC would also like to commend the untiring efforts of Ambassador Kessedjian from France, who guided the process with great determination.

The ICRC itself was pleased to contribute to the process, during which it was able to share its broad experience relating to missing persons.

The ICRC considers it imperative that everything possible be done to shed light on the fate of persons reported missing in connection with armed conflict or other situations of violence and whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Persons deprived of their freedom must be allowed to communicate with their families. No matter how legitimate the grounds for detention, no one has the right to conceal a person's whereabouts, to keep secret whether someone is alive or dead, or to deny that he or she is being detained. Doing so runs counter to the basic tenets of international humanitarian law and human rights law, namely " the right of families to know the fate of their relatives " enshrined in Article 32 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions.

Mr. Chairman,

Preventing enforced disappearances is one of the key aims of ICRC visits to people detained in connectio n with armed conflict or other situations of violence.

In 2004 the ICRC saw some 571,000 detainees in over 2,400 places of detention in nearly 80 countries. Of this number, 29,000 were registered and visited for the first time.   When it visits detainees, the ICRC registers them so that it can keep track of them individually. It also speaks in private with detainees about their conditions of detention and treatment. For many detainees, these regular visits are the only contact with the outside world.

I thank you for your attention.