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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Convention on Disappearances as Priority Agenda of the UN CHR


The question of an International Convention against Enforced Disappearances was one of principal themes mentioned in speeches made during the inaugural session of the new UN Human Rights Council on Monday June 19th in Geneva.

The Human Rights Council is a new UN organ which replaces the Commission on Human Rights founded in 1945 and that had as its first outcome the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Its history afterwards was indeed contradictory as it continued to produce important standard setting documents but had little influence on the ground for the protection and promotion of human rights. Many years have therefore gone by who were witnesses to genocide, repression and political persecution in all corners of the world with little or no immediate response from the UN.

However much of the debate on the Commission and the Council is not only theoretical for FEDEFAM (Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees) and other organizations of families and survivors of grave human rights violations, but in a certain sense extremely dangerous as it has given to States the perfect excuse for a paralysis in the consideration of human rights during several months. In March this year the Commission was effectively closed down in a very controversial decision. Weak as it may have been the Commission was at least functioning and the Council had not even began its activity.

The Council promises an important new hierarchy for human rights on the international agenda but how that is to be achieved is still unknown. The chosen tool is
a public periodic review process (every 4 years) of the situation of human rights in each of the Council`s 47 member States. But we do not know what will happen with the rest of the 140 other countries members of the UN and above all if it will be prepared to examine the situation in the US, the world power that was the chief promotor of the Council but was significantly absent for its inauguration. The US is not even a member of the Council and it is feared that it will try to constantly undermine its more
decisive initiatives as together with Israel, it finally voted against its creation in the UN General Assembly last March.

This ambience of general scepticism towards the Council has been so strong among human rights activists that generally speaking they have not travelled to Geneva for its inauguration. Unlike the sessions of the Commission it was not at all difficult
to get good seating in the space reserved for NGOs.

The only two sectors present for the occasion were both organizations who are trying to win approval for the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances and representatives of indigenous peoples who are trying to get the Council’s support for a Declaration on the Rights of native peoples. That is to say that the approval of these two documents by the Council before it ends its session on June 30th has now become a lithmus test for its future credibility. A failure to act on either of these two texts will provoke even greater scepticism about the possibility of the UN engaging in a effective
action on behalf of human rights in todays world.

Judging from the speeches we have been hearing, it would seem that there is finally a clear awareness among the majority of States that much is at stake in the debate on the Convention against Enforced Disappearances.

The UN General Secretary himself Kofi Annan in his inaugural speech surprised us when he said:

“The Commission has also bequeathed to you two vital documents- the draft Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. You have a chance, by considering and approving those instruments at the earliest opportunity, to start your work with a tangible achievement – one that will bring hope to large groups of people who have lived in a dark shadow
of fear. “

During the speeches of foreign ministers heard during all the day there were many explicit mentions of the need to approve the Convention on Enforced Disappearances. One could highlght the words of Jorge Taiana (Argentina), Paulina Veloso (Chile), Belela Herrera (Uruguay), the joint statement of the European Union, Japon, among many others.

During the afternoon Mr. Philippe Douste Blazy, Foreign Minister of France, convened a press conference which was also attended by Minister Taiana from Argentina and representatives of Belgium, Chile, Spain and Mexico whose Ambassador Luis Alfonso del Alba is chairing the Human Rights Council itself. The principal international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) and Human Rights Watch made a joint statement and FEDEFAM also distributed among journalists our own statement. The objective of meeting with the press was to promote the Convention, and France expressed its intention, if necessary, to request a vote from Council members although the ideal outcome would be that the Council support the initiative by a consensus resolution.

The delegations of FEDEFAM, AFAD (Asian Federation on Involuntary Disappearances) and We Remember (Belarus) present in Geneva are very pleased with this first day of the Council and hopeful of a positive outcome.

There is now an intense lobby program ahead. Marta Vasquez (Mothers of Plaza de Mayo –Founding Line) will address the Council itself on Thursday and on Friday there will be the launch event in a parallel meeting of an NGO Coalition in favour of the Convention. That same day an open letter to the Council in support of the Convention signed by leading world personalities will be handed over to Ambassador del Alba.

On Monday June 26th there will be a special evening event in the “Memorial Garden of the Disappeared” which will be attended by French Ambassador Bernard Kessidjan who chaired the Working Group that approved the draft Convention. And from Tuesday 27th on comes the moment of truth when the debate on the Convention is scheduled and a decision has to be taken by the Council before Friday 30th.

France has already prepared the necessary resolution and has secured sponsors from all regions. However not all doubts have so far been dissipated. We know there is opposition from many very important countries such as Russia, China, USA and India. We have repeatedly heard those voices during the drafting process in the Working Group. The doubt now is about their current position. We believe that in the end as it is a Convention those States in disagreement always have the option of not signing nor ratifying the instrument. What is important to us is that there is a vast majority of States who want to do something about enforced disappearances and they cannot have their hands tied by those few but very powerful countries. Families of the victims and survivors have suffered in that situation for too many years. It is for this reason that we say:

Convention Now! For the Right not to be Disappeared.

Geneva June 20th 2006

Patricio Rice
FEDEFAM (Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees)


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IKOHI was set up on September 17, 1998 by the parents and surfaced victims of disappearances. Since then, IKOHI was assisted by KONTRAS, until October 2002 when finally IKOHI carried out it first congress to complete its organizational structure. In the Congress, IKOHI decided its two priority of programs. They are (1) the empowerment of the social, economic, social and cultural potential of the members as well as mental and physical, and (2) the campaign for solving of the cases and preventing the cases from happening again. The solving of the cases means the reveal of the truth, the justice for the perpetrators, the reparation and rehabilitation of the victims and the guarantee that such gross violation of human right will never be repeated again in the future.

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