Committee on Enforced Disappearances Closes Online Twentieth Session after Adopting Concluding Observations on Reports of Mongolia

OHCHR

Committee Expresses Concern about Acts of Violence during Peaceful Demonstrations in Colombia and Recalls that No Exceptional Circumstances Can Be Invoked to Justify Enforced Disappearance

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances this afternoon closed its online twentieth session after adopting concluding observations on the initial reports of Mongolia and Switzerland on their implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and on a report containing complementary information presented by Colombia.

Koji Teraya, Committee Rapporteur, presented the annual report on the Committee’s nineteenth and twentieth sessions. During the two sessions, the Committee had adopted more than 16 official documents, ranging from five lists of issues, four sets of concluding observations, two reports on urgent actions, to a new format for the submission of urgent action requests to the Committee. During the reporting period, the Committee had received and addressed two allegations of reprisals against persons who had contributed to the work of the Committee. It had also adopted “Guidelines to prevent and address intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups cooperating with the Committee”.

The Chair and Committee Vice-Chair Horacio Ravena thanked Mr. Teraya for all his hard work and his contributions to the work of the Committee. The Chair also extended his thanks to Moncef Baati for his contributions to the Committee.

The annual report was adopted.

The Committee then heard the testimony of Reyna Patricia Ambros Zapatero, a Mexican from Nuevo Laredo Tamaulipas, a border municipality located in north eastern Mexico, who spoke as a survivor of enforced disappearance. She said her horrible experience began on 4 April 2018, when she was an eyewitness to the arbitrary detention and subsequent enforced disappearance of Ángel Chigo Villegas. The fact that she had witnessed his disappearance had led her to suffer an enforced disappearance herself. This had happened on 23 May 2018. Members of the Mexican Navy had stopped her and violently forced her into a vehicle. Her captivity had lasted three days, until 26 May. She said she was sure that the urgent action with which the Committee had brought her situation to the attention of the Mexican State had been key for the Mexican Navy to release her.

Mohammed Ayat, Committee Chairperson, paid tribute to Ms. Ambros Zapatero for her poignant testimony. Her statement reminded all of the unacceptable reality faced by victims of enforced disappearance and the importance of all actors taking urgent action to eradicate and prevent enforced disappearance.

Committee Vice-Chair Horacio Ravena said that with regard to the case of Ms. Ambros Zapatero, a thorough investigation had yet to be carried out and that those responsible should be arrested and convicted. The truth must be known and the non-repetition of these acts must be guaranteed. Her testimony was proof that international intervention could save lives, even if sometimes there were no results. Contributing to the rescue of one person justified the Committee’s struggle.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Ayat noted among other things the importance of the Committee, States and civil society continuing to work together to combat enforced disappearances. In this context, and in order to help prevent enforced disappearances, the Committee underlined its concern about the acts of violence that had taken place during the peaceful demonstrations in Colombia in recent days, and recalled that no exceptional circumstances of any kind could be invoked to justify enforced disappearance.

All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found at the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available via the following link: https://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/. All meetings coverage releases on the Committee’s public meetings can be found here.

The Committee is scheduled to hold its twenty-first session from 13 to 24 September. During this session, it is provisionally scheduled to consider the initial reports of Brazil and Panama; to examine and adopt list of issues for Costa Rica, Mali and Mauritania; and to consider additional information submitted by France and Spain pursuant to article 29(4) of the Convention.

Statements

KOJI TERAYA, Committee Rapporteur, presenting the annual report on the Committee’s nineteenth and twentieth sessions, noted the end of the mandate of five Committee members: Mohammed Ayat, Moncef Baati, Milica Kolakovic-Bojovic, Horacio Ravenna and himself. Some would continue to work as Members after the election, but for now as a Rapporteur, he extended his sincere appreciation for their invaluable contribution to this Committee. During the two sessions, the Committee had adopted more than 16 official documents, ranging from five lists of issues, four sets of concluding observations, two reports on urgent actions, to a new format for the submission of urgent action requests to the Committee. During the reporting period, the Committee had received and addressed two allegations of reprisals against persons who had contributed to the work of the Committee. It had adopted “Guidelines to prevent and address intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups cooperating with the Committee”.

Mr. Teraya, taking advantage of his final opportunity to speak, said he believed that the Committee, with its new members, would continue to prevent enforced disappearances and to combat impunity for the crime of enforced disappearance more effectively and more determinedly. It had been an honour to work with the Committee during his four-year term.

REYNA PATRICIA AMBROS ZAPATERO, providing testimony as a victim of enforced disappearance, said she was a Mexican from Nuevo Laredo Tamaulipas, a border municipality located in north eastern Mexico, who spoke as a survivor of enforced disappearance. She said her horrible experience began on 4 April 2018, when she was an eyewitness to the arbitrary detention and subsequent enforced disappearance of Ángel Chigo Villegas. Troops dressed in grey and white, with the logo of the Mexican Navy, which was called the SEMAR, violently put the boy in a car and took him away. After these events, she had voluntarily joined the search for Ángel.

The fact that she had witnessed his disappearance had led me to suffer an enforced disappearance herself. This had happened on 23 May 2018. Members of the Mexican Navy had stopped her and violently forced her into a vehicle.

During her detention, she was beaten and kicked in various parts of her body and was ordered to sit down and then to be glued to the wall. She was kept hooded the whole time. She could hear other people being beaten and screaming in pain, people who had probably also been disappeared by the Navy.

Her captivity lasted three days, until 26 May. She had been told that if she filed a complaint, they would not forget to come back to kill her and her whole family. Once she was able, she had contacted the United Nations Human Rights Office and the Human Rights Committee of Nuevo Laredo. She had later learned of the intervention of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, with the urgent action they registered for her case. She said she was sure that the urgent action with which the Committee had brought her situation to the attention of the Mexican State had been key for the Mexican Navy to release her. She said she had also presented a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office and to the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico. To this day, she had no information about the investigation of her case.

MOHAMMED AYAT, Committee Chairperson, paid tribute to Ms. Ambros Zapatero for her poignant testimony in accounting for the suffering endured by the victims of enforced disappearances. Her statement reminded all of the unacceptable reality faced by victims of enforced disappearance and the importance of all actors taking urgent action to eradicate and prevent enforced disappearances.

HORACIO RAVENA, Committee Vice-Chair, stressed that the use of enforced disappearance of civilians as a form of social discipline was a perverse practice inherited from the Second World War and the repression of colonial struggles in the 1960s. The aim of this practice was to establish terror, dominate and evade national and international law.

With regard to the case of Ms. Ambros Zapatero, Mr. Ravena noted that a thorough investigation had yet to be carried out and that those responsible should be arrested and convicted. The truth must be known and the non-repetition of these acts must be guaranteed. Her testimony was proof that international intervention could save lives, even if sometimes there were no results. Contributing to the rescue of one person justified the Committee’s struggle.

MOHAMMED AYAT, Committee Chairperson, in his closing remarks, said the Committee had held constructive online dialogues on the initial reports of Switzerland and Mongolia under article 29(1) of the Convention and the report presented by Colombia under article 29(4) of the Convention in response to a request for complementary information. He hoped that the recommendations that the Committee had adopted on the three reports would be implemented to ensure the prevention of enforced disappearances.

The Committee’s interaction with civil society had been rich. Among other things, the Committee had had a particularly edifying dialogue with 53 representatives of civil society in Colombia. Their contributions had been very rich and useful to its work. They once again demonstrated the importance of the Committee, States and civil society continuing to work together to combat enforced disappearances. In this context, and in order to help prevent enforced disappearances, the Committee underlined its concern about the acts of violence that had taken place during the peaceful demonstrations in Colombia in recent days, and recalled that no exceptional circumstances of any kind could be invoked to justify enforced disappearance.

Mr. Ayat said the Committee had also adopted questions to be sent to Zambia in the absence of a report. This procedure had been used before with other States which had not presented their initial reports to the Committee. The Committee had adopted Guiding Principles on Reprisals, its annual report to the General Assembly which the Rapporteur just presented, and an analytical report on urgent actions, including a new format to present them.

The Chair noted that at the beginning of the session, he had reported 1,013 urgent actions recorded. Sadly, the Committee last night recorded the urgent action no. 1,104, an increase of 92 cases in the last month. This was dramatic because behind each case was a victim, their relatives and their community, all bruised by the enforced disappearance of their loved one. He said the Committee continued to demand that it be equipped with the material and human resources to cope with this constant increase, because, of course, this required intense and almost daily work throughout the procedure.

Mr. Ayat said that Committee held a very positive interaction with the head of the treaty bodies section who informed about the latest developments in the ongoing reform of treaty bodies. They also had a joint meeting with the Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances and the Committee on Immigrant Workers on the topic of enforced disappearances in the context of migration. In addition, they had an important discussion on the involvement of non-State actors in enforced disappearances.

The Chair noted the very challenging conditions in which the Committee had worked online. These conditions were dictated of course by the exceptional conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic. He hoped they would be able, as soon as possible, to return to conditions that would allow in person meetings, as direct interaction remained essential to carry out their functions.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/05/le-comite-des-disparitions-forcees-acheve-les-travaux-de-sa

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