Governments Must Do More to Protect Displaced Persons, End Forced Disappearances, Experts Tell Third Committee amid Calls for Greater Adherence to Conventions
The number of internally displaced persons had doubled to 40.3 million since 2000, and in many cases they had been forced to flee their homes by conflict and violence, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
Presenting her first annual report as mandate‑holder, Cecilia Jimenez‑Damary said internally displaced persons were increasingly being locked into protracted displacement for years or even decades. She was one of six experts presenting their reports to the Committee and discussing a range of findings.
Among other things, Ms. Jimenez‑Damary said she would work to ensure that internally displaced persons were included in transitional justice processes, so they would be made active partners in their recovery. She would also seek to improve the protection of internally displaced children by promoting State responsibility. National human rights institutions could take on a greater role in that regard by promoting training on international human rights law and standards.
Suela Janina, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, said the pace of countries ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance had been slow, and thus, welcomed the launch of the campaign aiming to double ratifications in the coming five years.
Further, she said only 23 of the 57 State parties — less than half the total — had accepted the Committee’s competence to receive individual communications under the Convention’s article 31. She called on them to allow individual communications to be fully operational as an instrument. “Enforced disappearance is one of the most egregious crimes that human history has experienced,” she stressed, and it was time for States to reengage in a broad coalition to increase ratifications.
Similarly, Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said the 1,094 new cases reported to 36 States in the last reporting period was “unacceptably” high. Short‑term disappearances, during which people were often tortured to elicit confessions or evidence, had risen globally. The fact that a victim, in many cases, reappeared, did not render that practice less worrisome.
He said threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims or their families were among the biggest concerns, citing the case of the father of a disappeared person arrested on his way to the Human Rights Council session in Geneva, in September 2017. “We must do more to stop this senseless suffering,” he said, calling enforced disappearance a vile, cowardly act.
States also must do more to ensure migrant workers and their families had access to justice, said Jose Brillantes, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The lack of reasonable avenues for migration led many to sacrifice safety to reach their destinations, he said, stressing that 20 per cent of the 244 million migrants across the world were in irregular situations.
Also making presentations today were Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Joseph A. Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 23 October, to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights.
The Third Committee met today to continue its debate on the promotion and protection of human rights. (For more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4205)
SUELA JANINA, Chairperson of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, presented the Committee’s sixth report covering its eleventh and twelfth sessions, paying tribute to the five members who had concluded their mandate last June and welcoming the five new members. Noting that there were 57 State parties and 97 signatory States to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, she said the pace of ratifications remained slow and thus welcomed the launch of the campaign aiming to double ratifications in the next five years.
She said the Committee had considered reports of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Cuba, Senegal and Ecuador, and adopted Concluding Observations on them. It also had adopted the lists of issues on Cuba, Ecuador, Senegal, Lithuania and Gabon. Noting that some reports had been overdue for five years, she said reminders had been sent to Lesotho, Togo, Cambodia, Morocco, Mauritania, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Mali, Nigeria, Panama and Zambia. The Committee had discussed a strategy to elicit submission of overdue reports and considered the possibility of examining State parties which had not submitted reports for more than five years. From 2012 to 17 March 2017, the Committee had registered 359 requests for urgent action, most of which had come from Mexico and Iraq. As of 10 October 2017, 414 urgent action requests had been registered. State parties had responded to most such actions, and when they did not, were sent reminders.
However, she noted that only 23 of the 57 State parties — less than half the total — had accepted the Committee’s competence to receive individual communications under the Convention’s article 31, a “sign of reluctance to recognize the competence of the Committee”. She called on State parties to ratify the Convention and allow individual communications to be fully operational as an instrument. The Committee had been in contact with Mexico since May 2013 about the possibility of a visit, which the country later refused. “Enforced disappearance is one of the most egregious crimes that human history has experienced,” she stressed, and it was time for States to reengage in a broad coalition to achieve the target of doubling ratifications.
When the floor opened for questions, Iraq’s representative detailed actions taken domestically, adding that the search for any persons kidnapped by terrorist groups required an international effort and asking for enhanced cooperation in that regard.
A representative of the European Union asked how the Committee saw its mandate, and for paths being considered for review of country reports. In July, a campaign had aimed to increase ratifications, and the Chair was asked for the best way to achieve that.
The representative of Japan said enforced disappearances were a serious crime, asking the Chair for ideas on what the Committee could do to expand the membership of the Convention.
The representative of France endorsed the European Union statement, asking what paths she saw towards strengthening activities or monitoring with flexibility.
The representative of Mexico asked about the most common erroneous perceptions that Member States had of the Convention, and how the international community could move towards universalization.
The representative of Argentina noted that his country would submit a resolution in support of the Convention.
The representative of Colombia described national measures to address enforced disappearances.
Ms. JANINA replied that the questions mainly covered two points: the Committee’s daily work, and ratification of the Convention. Urgent action was an important instrument, yet it had not been fully applied; only 10 per cent of the 414 urgent action cases had been clarified. “It is quite important to make this mechanism known,” she said. “This mechanism is there to help the victims.”
To a query by France’s delegate on country reports, she said the Committee had established constructive dialogues with States over the last six years and found them satisfactory. The Committee was fully committed to implementing the Convention, she said, noting that States did not face reporting fatigue. The aim was not to add to the work of Member States. Universalization of the Convention was “a must” and she underscored the need to double the number of ratifications.
Responding to a query by Mexico’s delegate on challenges faced by the Committee, she said there was a perception that the Convention was a regional instrument. However, enforced disappearances were a global phenomenon from which no country was immune.
BERNARD DUHAIME, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, asked delegates whether they thought enforced disappearances were acceptable in 2017, as 1,094 new cases had been reported to 36 States, an “unacceptably high number”. Enforced disappearance was used especially under the guise of fighting terrorism. Short‑term disappearances had risen globally, he said, emphasizing that there was no time limit on enforced disappearance. Describing a link between enforced disappearance and migration, he said States’ increasingly rigid migratory policies, which focused on deterrence, exposed migrants to human rights violations, including enforced disappearance. Where migrants disappeared with the direct or indirect involvement of States, that might trigger Governments’ responsibility under the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, he warned.
Among the biggest concerns was the issue of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, he said, citing the case of the father of a disappeared person arrested on his way to the Human Rights Council session in Geneva, in September 2017. Country visits allowed the Working Group to formulate recommendations on how to address enforced disappearance and assist States in the implementation of the Declaration. The Working Group had recently visited Albania and the Gambia, and planned to visit Sudan and Ukraine. Calling enforced disappearance a heinous crime, he said the international community was not doing enough to end it and called on States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The representative of the United States said there had been 85,000 documented disappearances of persons in Syria since the start of the conflict and cited a systematic pattern of mass arrests. He called attention to China’s detention of dissidents, and in particular, Uyghurs. He asked how the Working Group aimed to meet the need of the broader communities affected by mass disappearance.
The representative Argentina asked about actions States could take to prevent reprisals against family members of persons of enforced disappearance.
The representative of the European Union asked about any new challenges the Working Group faced and about how it worked with regional organizations in that context.
The representative of Japan called the abduction of Japanese citizens by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea a grave violation of human rights.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said thousands of Koreans had been abducted or disappeared during the Korean War and asked how civil society groups had contributed to the Working Group’s efforts.
The representative of China said the accusation by the United States’ delegate on enforced disappearances in China was unfounded.
The representative of France also spoke.
Mr. DUHAIME replied that the issue of reprisals had been discussed at the annual Special Procedures meeting, which included other stakeholders such as treaty bodies. That fight must not only to be conducted within the United Nations; States should step in and condemn reprisals. Regarding the impact on communities, he said reparations could not be an individually focused process. Measures addressing the collective recognition of violations that families had suffered went beyond an individual-based approach. On new trends in enforced disappearance, he said there had been an increase in State actions related to the fight against organized crime and terrorism, which was not necessarily new, but rather, an issue perceived by authorities as justified in that context. He stressed, however, that there was no justification for enforced disappearance whatsoever, even in combating organized crime or terrorism.
More broadly, he said the Working Group was in constant contact with regional bodies to share expertise, stressing that State measures must consider the transnational nature of enforced disappearances in the context of migration. He encouraged States to facilitate family efforts to seek truth and justice, notably through bilateral or multilateral initiatives. To a question on the importance of civil society access, he credited the Working Group’s existence to efforts by groups representing families of the disappeared, who had pushed for its creation. “We should never forget that,” he stressed. The constant fight families had taken, at great risk, including reprisals, was what had allowed the Working Group to come to the General Assembly and denounce the persistent practice of enforced disappearance.
Internally Displaced Persons
CECILIA JIMENEZ-DAMARY, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, presented her first annual report as mandate‑holder. The global situation of internal displacement was worrying, with 40.3 million people living in that condition as a result of conflict and violence, a figure which had nearly doubled since 2000. The United Nations should not neglect internally displaced persons, who were increasingly being locked into protracted displacement for years or even decades. She would focus attention on a number of issues, the first of which was ensuring the inclusion of internally displaced persons in transitional justice processes. She also aimed to improve the protection of internally displaced children by promoting State responsibility.
She advocated a greater role for national human rights institutions by promoting training on international human rights law and standards. Attention to neglected causes would support action to prevent internal displacement. And by enhancing the participation of internally displaced persons in decisions affecting them, they would be made active partners in their recovery, rather than beneficiaries of assistance; they should be fully involved in transitional justice and peace-building. Regarding her country visit to El Salvador, a country suffering the “hidden tragedy” of gang-related violence, she encouraged its Government to assist and protect internally displaced persons. The twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement was an occasion for stronger commitment to more strategic action toward reducing new and protracted internal displacement, she said, proposing the creation of an International Day for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons.
The representative of Morocco said statistical data was necessary to define policies on internally displaced persons. He asked what could be done to better collect such data and establish databases.
The representative of the United States asked how communities could ensure that the needs of internally displaced persons were met.
The representative of Afghanistan asked what actions could be taken to address the causes of internal displacement and to protect the rights of those communities during conflict.
The representative of European Union how could the twentieth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement be used to raised awareness of the issue.
The representative of Austria asked for best practices to ensure internally displaced persons participated in decisions affecting them.
The representative of Switzerland asked about new ways to address challenges related to internal displacement, and how displaced persons and host countries could contribute to participatory processes.
The representative of Azerbaijan asked how issues concerning internally displaced persons could be incorporated in the Global Compact on Migration.
The representative of the United Kingdom asked how Member States could integrate the needs of internally displaced persons into longer‑term plans.
The representative of Syria, refuting the Special Rapporteur’s report, said she should have included a chapter on the causes of internally displaced persons in Syria, and referred to the systematic killing of such persons by the international coalition which had also caused displacement of Yemenis.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said Japan should stop using the issue of abduction of its citizens for political purposes. Allegations by the Republic of Korea’s delegate on abductions committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were groundless.
The representatives of Iraq, Georgia, Norway and Ethiopia also spoke.
Ms. JIMENEZ-DAMARY, responding, underscored the nexus between human rights and humanitarian approaches. If the correct data or statistics were not available, it would be impossible to provide a correct diagnosis. It was important to carry out an evidence‑based analysis of internal displacement. The World Conference on Statistics had a working group on internally displaced persons. Data were needed to ensure that issues related to internally displaced persons were integrated into the Sustainable Development Goals, she said, stressing that the situation of internally displaced persons must be part‑and‑parcel of development programmes.
Noting that hers was the only Special Procedures mandate that was a Standing Invitee of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, she said she was working to mainstream human rights into the United Nations system, and that the building of internally displaced persons’ networks for participation was a manifestation of her recommendations. Sometimes the problem was that the voices of internally displaced persons did not reach decision‑making. The aspect of how to establish a system-wide approach must be discussed at the international level because the international community could not continue an ad hoc, “patchy” approach to internally displaced persons.
Short of an agency, she said, it was important to strengthen cooperation among international organizations and ensure they came together with countries hosting internally displaced persons. Regarding references to the Kampala Convention, she said she was impressed that many States parties had shared their related plans and strategies. It was a good example of how a regional treaty could make a difference at the national level, she said, recalling that the responsibility for protection lay with States. On what more could be done at the national level, she said the international community could ensure that internally displaced persons’ voices were heard. National authorities should prioritize that issue and set up related structures, she said, citing as examples countries that had set up national and local focal points.
JOSE BRILLANTES, Chair of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, said migration was a defining human rights issue. Migrant workers and their families must enjoy their human rights during their journeys, at work or in school. The lack of reasonable avenues for migration led many to sacrifice safety to reach their destinations, he said, noting that the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families outlined robust legal mechanisms to prevent abuse. Of the 244 million migrants across the world, 20 per cent were in irregular situations, he noted, calling on States to ensure migrant workers and members of their families had access to justice.
Fifty-one States were now parties to the Convention, he said, noting that the heads of the human rights treaty bodies were committed to strengthening the work of the system. The Committee continued to support the involvement of civil society organizations and human rights institutions in the reporting process. Additionally, a media strategy was being developed to promote the Committee’s work and increase awareness of human rights obligations. The Committee had elaborated General Comments to promote understanding of the Convention, with one such Comment focusing on the human rights of children in the context of migration. Committee members also advised States parties on implementation and reporting processes. He concluded by expressing concern that, as the world witnessed large migration flows, there remained a lack of political will to act on the matter.
The representative of Mexico welcomed efforts by the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families’ to raise awareness of the Global Compact on Migration, as well as those to mainstream gender issues. She asked the Chair to identify systematic violations against the rights of migrants and if there were any good practices regarding fair hiring.
The representative of the European Union asked for examples of good practices regarding dialogue and cooperation in order to maximize the benefits of migration. He also requested examples of best practices for Member States to uphold norms on migrant children.
The representative of Morocco emphasized that the Convention to protect migrant workers was the only treaty specifically dealing with that issue. She asked what measures were being taken to move for the ratification of the Convention in a time of increasing intolerance. She also asked what contributions were being made by the Committee to advance the Global Compact.
The representative of Indonesia said that, as an origin country, the protection of its citizens abroad was a priority. She asked what practical input the United Nations could provide to enhance cooperation between origin and destination countries, and about measures being taken to attract other countries to become parties to the Convention.
Mr. BRILLANTES, responding, noted that Mexico had served as the Chair of the Preparatory Committee meetings that had created the Committee in the 1980s, and thus, observed that it therefore was interested in seeing the momentum continued. To a question on the kinds of violations being experienced by migrants globally, he said most were location specific. The circumstances could be different, and thus, problems being encountered in Qatar, for example, were different from those seen in the Mediterranean. Some events were particular to a certain area, but had a global impact. The majority of States that had ratified the Convention were sending rather than receiving States, he observed.
To other questions, he said there appeared to be no major stumbling blocks to the European Union agreeing with the Convention’s principles, adding that it was the bloc’s ratifying process which had prevented it from ratifying that instrument. When there were no regular channels for migration, all people affected by political situations — and a desire for economic betterment — would look for irregular channels. There could be common ground for regular migration channels, which would discourage smuggling and other criminal elements, he said, citing, as an example, helping countries along their borders. Regarding migrant smuggling, he said the best practices were those recommended by the Convention’s concluding observations. All States needing capacity-building should be given the tools to come up with results. He said the Committee would use all avenues to increase ratification of the Convention, including working with non‑governmental organizations and national human rights institutions.
Human Rights of Migrants
FELIPE GONZÁLEZ MORALES, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, identified migrants as a group characterized by extreme vulnerability and invisibility. Addressing issues faced by migrants required new responses from the international community, he said, adding that he remained involved with the Global Compact for Migration to ensure human rights remained at the heart of the process. The focus of his work in the coming year would be on the return and reintegration of migrants and access to justice, with thematic reports being produced for the Human Rights Council and General Assembly.
Proper individual assessments for all migrants were needed to ensure that no return was conducted without due process of law, he said, expressing concern over bilateral readmission agreements. No migrant should be returned under such agreements without an effective pre‑return assessment and oversight by human rights monitoring mechanisms. Work in that thematic area would look closely at the situation of children, including unaccompanied ones, as they required special procedures and safeguards. In the absence of adequate guarantees of access to justice, the rights of migrants were merely an “illusion”, he asserted. Temporary and undocumented migrants, women and children were in particular need of access to complaint mechanisms and protections when reporting abuse, he concluded.
The representative of Eritrea asserted “migration is here to stay” and should be seen as a common historical phenomenon. Yet, migrants were increasingly unable to maintain links with their origin countries and he asked how destination States could ensure such links were protected and encouraged.
The representative of Mexico asked how relevant actors could update knowledge on the contributions of migrants so as not to focus exclusively on rhetoric, and further, how States could follow up on the commitments of the Global Compact.
The representative of Brazil asked the Special Rapporteur what his future priorities would be.
The representative of the European Union, citing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Global Compact, asked how the proposed 2035 agenda for facilitating human mobility could contribute to efforts to address migration. He also asked how awareness raising could be conducted regarding lack of respect for human rights in origin countries, and promoting stakeholder participation.
The representative of the United States asked for strategies on how to best collect data on “hard‑to‑count” migrant populations.
The representative of South Africa said political rhetoric on migration often did not reflect reality on the ground, requesting information on how to address stigmatization of migrants and the causes of migration.
The representative of Chile asked for the Special Rapporteur’s opinion regarding actions States could take to improve migrants’ access to justice.
The representative of Switzerland asked if the Special Rapporteur would continue to pursue the 2035 agenda, and if that effort would help support the Global Compact. She also asked to what extent ideas and solutions to migration from Latin America could benefit the Global Compact.
The representative of Canada asked about the biggest roadblocks for the Global Compact. He requested information on how the international community could improve responses to migration and what the Special Rapporteur would suggest for improving global migration governance.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the 2035 agenda was unnecessary, as it would only duplicate existing efforts to address migration, calling for clear distinctions between migrants and refugees.
The representative of Morocco asked what the added value of the 2035 agenda would be.
Also speaking were the representatives of Qatar and Ethiopia.
Mr. GONZÁLEZ MORALES replied that migrants’ right to consular assistance was a basic question of access to justice, stressing that States had a role to play in overcoming xenophobic or discriminatory practices. People in a mobility situation should be sure of the determination of whether they were refugees or migrants, and whether they needed appropriate protection. That should not just be a formality. His mandate did not refer to refugees, but it was a question that was of concern to him. Turning to the Global Compact, he noted that it was a process with a certain date by which it should be taken up.
He then turned to questions about factors leading people to emigrate from their country of origin, noting that bilateral agreements between States should be in keeping with international standards. To a question on duplication of efforts, he said that, given the different levels of State commitments, parallel mechanisms were sometimes established within the United Nations. Addressing a question on the Latin American experience, he noted that some States had de‑penalized migration, so criminal laws no longer viewed regular migration as a crime. However, an individual detained for migratory reasons might have fewer procedural rights than one detained for a criminal reason. Some countries, which had not played a role in the past, were now transit countries with their own responsibilities and obligations.
Right to Privacy
JOSEPH A. CANNATACI, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said the only areas in which the right to privacy was not absolute were in the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of crime, and in national security. He identified legislative gaps concerning surveillance in cyberspace as a “serious obstacle” to the right to privacy. Noting “considerable support” from stakeholders to address those gaps, he said recommendations were emerging through in‑depth consultations. Implementing legal instruments related to privacy in cyberspace was the most substantive step the United Nations could take to help Member States advance the right to privacy.
Referencing activities undertaken to uphold his mandate over the past year, he stressed that reconciling the benefits of new technologies with fundamental human rights was a major challenge. While his report acknowledged information as an economic asset, it also stated that a great deal of data was gathered from ordinary people without their knowledge. “Big Data”, the collection and analysis of large amounts of data, was being combined with the concept of “Open Data”. Thought to promote transparency through the release of private and public information, Open Data could lead to the breakdown of privacy protections, he warned. The report considered the need to increase individuals’ control of their personal information in order to strengthen trust in States’ data collection practices, he said.
During the interactive debate, the representative of the United States, recalling the Special Rapporteur’s call for an international treaty on privacy, said the United States did not favour pursuing such a binding legal instrument.
The representative of Brazil asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on gaps to be addressed by an international instrument regarding surveillance and privacy in cyberspace.
The representative of Germany said human rights applied online as well as offline, adding that breaches of the right to privacy online were regarded as breaches of human rights. Further efforts were needed to implement the existing rights to privacy, rather than a new international instrument.
The representative of the European Union said a new instrument was unlikely to have an impact on the collection of private data by private companies, underscoring the need to strengthen civil society. By defending human rights defenders’ right to privacy, the freedom of the press was also defended, along with other important human rights. The Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate on how his mandate might contribute to spreading the knowledge that all human rights applied online as well as offline.
The representative of Liechtenstein asked what follow-ups had resulted from the 2016 International Intelligence Oversight Forum, and what Member States and oversight bodies and intelligence agencies could do between sessions. As for health‑related data stored in the data cloud, the Special Rapporteur was asked about how to protect patients’ rights to privacy.
The representative of South Africa noted the report’s query as to how privacy rights could coexist with new technologies which did not exist when the Declaration on human rights was drafted, observing that that was true with regard to all human rights. Any gap in codified international law should be identified and normative gaps should be filled. The Special Rapporteur was asked to clarify how States could best address violations of the right to privacy by non‑State actors and private enterprises.
The representative of Iraq noted that combating terrorism was a global threat, and called on the international community to collaborate. He asked the Special Rapporteur about combating use of the internet by criminal gangs.
The representative of Switzerland underscored the importance of transparency and effective control in relation to the collection of citizens’ private information.
The Special Rapporteur said a more definite view on what form international mechanisms should take would be proposed next year, as existing norms did not cover all details related to privacy. Indeed, new technologies had introduced situations where legislation and relevant actors required detailed guidance. He said pressing concerns related to jurisdiction in cyberspace and data localization persisted. Changes had brought the freedom of expression to a crossroads with the right to privacy, and some States used that right to stifle the freedom of expression. More detailed regulation would help bridge those gaps, he noted.
He said a number of countries recognized that enshrining simple declarations on the right to privacy was not enough. In Europe, for example, a need had been expressed for greater regulation of the provisions required for the protection of private life. Currently, the main concern regarding legal instruments was Government-led surveillance, he stressed. Regarding health data, he said public consultations would be held, with a report expected next year. Turning to Internet use by organized criminal networks, he expressed concern over law enforcement agencies competing over jurisdiction. Targeted approaches to combating criminal networks online must provide measured and proportionate safeguards, and should only be carried out when evidence of a threat existed.