Reprisals a key issue during interactive dialogue on arbitrary detention, IDPs and disappeances
Friday, 11 March 2011 18:04


On 7 and 8 March 2011, the Human Rights Council (the Council) held a clustered interactive dialogue with Mr Jeremy Sarkin, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and Mr Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.


Both Working Groups expressed specific concern about reprisals against persons communicating with their mandates, with El Hadji Malick Sow highlighting in particular the case of the Venezuelan judge Ms Maria Lourdes Afiuni, who has been detained since December 2009 after ordering the conditional release of an individual whose detention had been declared arbitrary by the Working Group on arbitrary detention. Many States, including the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) described such cases of imprisonment, threats, and other reprisals and acts of intimidation as unacceptable. The US emphasised the role of all States in protecting human rights defenders and stated that ‘it is imperative for all states to ensure that all who are in contact with mandate holders remain free from reprisals’. Similarly, the EU urged States to investigate reprisals against individuals cooperating with the Working Group and asked for more information on the measures the Working Group planned to take to address such reprisals.


Several States commented generally on cooperation with special procedures of the Council. Zambia in particular stressed the obligation of all member States of the United Nations to cooperate with, and comply with the findings of, the special procedure mandate holders. It expressed concern that the majority of States that had received urgent appeals from the Working Group on arbitrary detention had not responded, and following 102 urgent appeals, only 23 individuals were released. The US also emphasised the need for State cooperation and constructive engagement with the mandate holders even if States have disagreements with mandate holders.


Mr Jeremy Sarkin, in his statement on the report of the Working Group on enforced disappearances noted that while much progress has been made to further the group’s engagement with States, enforced disappearances remain a global problem, particularly in States suffering from internal conflict. While the Working Group has transmitted 53,337 individual cases to governments around the world, in less than 1% of these cases have the whereabouts of the individual been confirmed. Additionally, underreporting remains a major challenge facing the Working Group and Mr Sarkin urged governments and civil society actors who report on enforced disappearances to engage further with the group. The annual report noted four areas of concern: the need to define enforced disappearances as a continuous and autonomous crime(?) in domestic penal codes; the right to truth as both an individual and a collective right; persistent impunity for the crime of enforced disappearances; and the pattern of threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearances, including against their family members, witnesses, and human rights defenders working on such cases.


Speaking as a concerned country, Bosnia and Herzegovina expressed appreciation for the Working Group’s visit and recommendations, and expressed its readiness to continue collaborating with the Working Group. Additionally, it highlighted recent measures taken to address enforced disappearances, including the establishment of the Institute for Missing Persons.


Paraguay (on behalf of Mercosur), along with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Argentina, and Nepal, pledged its full support for the Working Group’s emphasis on the right to truth as an autonomous right as it compliments the right to justice for all victims of enforced disappearances. Paraguay also supported the exchange of best practices and emphasised the importance of the Latin American Initiative for the Identification of the Disappeared (LAIID), a joint research project sponsored by Argentina, Guatemala, and Peru to identify the remains of disappeared persons. Additionally, the African Union reiterated the Working Group’s emphasis on enforced disappearances in the context of armed conflict and highlighted the effect on women and children. The EU was disappointed that the Working Group still had not received replies on 514 cases, had not received an invitation for a country visit to Iran, and reiterated the call of the Working Group to the Government of Belarus to sign the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.


Mr Chaloka Beyani, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) drew attention to the estimated 50 million persons who are displaced by natural disasters in any given year. He praised the recent attention paid to climate change, stating that it represented an important step forward given that climate-induced displacement would remain a key issue in the coming decades. Mr Beyani said that a strong focus on normative frameworks, and the displacement resulting from natural disasters, would be central features underpinning his work throughout his tenure. Another objective would be to support the implementation process and ratification of the Kampala Convention, as this Convention signifies a major achievement by African Union members towards addressing the needs of internally displaced persons. Mr Beyani further asserted that the particular issues facing female IDPs and the response to persons living outside camps and settlements have not been sufficiently explored yet, and that both areas merited more concerted efforts from the international community. In addition to his annual report, he also presented to the Council a set of Operational guidelines on the protection of persons in situations of natural disasters.


A broad majority of speakers concurred with Mr Beyani’s statements regarding climate change, and agreed that climate-induced displacement warranted a more coordinated global response. Speaking as a concerned country, Iraq reiterated its support for the visit of the Special Rapporteur and stated that the two million displaced persons resulting from the conflict remain a challenge for the Iraqi government.  Azerbaijan said that it would continue its vigorous efforts to improve the condition of IDPs, a majority of who were displaced due to the protracted Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that ended in 1994. Georgia stated that the approximately 400,000 internally displaced persons within its borders were the result of several phases of full-scale ethnic cleansing and the foreign occupation of the Georgian regions of Abkhazia, Tskhivali, and South Ossetia. The return of these long-term refugees and displaced persons to their permanent places of residence consequently remained an important objective of the Georgian government.  The interventions by both Azerbaijan and Georgia led to protracted exchanges of points of order and rights of reply by Armenia and the Russian Federation respectively.


The US expressed concern that the international community lacked the capacity to adequately protect persons displaced by natural disasters, and urged all relevant actors to continue developing mechanisms to monitor the human rights of all disaster and conflicted-affected populations. Finally, Austria emphasised the importance of reparations for IDPs, particularly in relation to confiscated land. This statement was noted by the Working Group in its concluding remarks. In his concluding remarks, Mr Beyani also emphasised the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and encouraged States to work together towards their implementation.


El Hadji Malick Sow, Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, highlighted that in 2010 the Working Group had paid particular attention to arbitrary detention in relation to armed conflict, and in this regard, the International Criminal Court had confirmed the applicability of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in situations of armed conflicts. He stressed that it was essential that all governments respect international norms not only in times of peace, but also in times of armed conflict and violence.


The Working Group stated that no human being should be deprived of his or her freedom, and that secret detention was a form of enforced disappearance that if applied systematically, could constitute a crime against humanity. The Working Group had sent 102 urgent appeals to a number of governments concerning nearly 3,000 individuals, and welcomed the freeing of three individuals – in Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Myanmar. Mr Sow also spoke of the case of Venezuelan judge Ms Afiuni, and called on the Government of Venezuela for her immediate release. Venezuela was displeased with the Working Group’s focus on arbitrary detention in Venezuela and Ms Afiuni’s case in particular, expressed concern for the credibility and impartiality of the group. Mr Sow, in his response, invited Venezuela to re-discuss Ms Afiuni’s case at the next session of the Working Group, to facilitate finding a solution. Last year, during the Human Rights Council’s 15th regular session, ISHR along with other human rights organisations, hosted a side event aimed at raising awareness of the issue of reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN, and highlighted Ms Afiuni's case as one of many examples of reprisals and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders. On 16 March, another side event on reprisals will highlight new cases and provide updates to previous reprisals already presented. 


The EU, along with Nigeria (on behalf of the African Group), Chile and other States welcomed the Working Group's efforts to combat secret detention and encouraged States to implement the recommendations of the Working Group in order to put an end to those practices.


Nigeria (on behalf of the Africa Group), Pakistan (on behalf of the OIC), and the Russian Federation did not support the recommendation of the Working Group to expand the mandate to include the examination of conditions of detention around the world and monitoring and follow-up on state compliance with obligations concerning the human rights of detainees. The US and Spain on the other hand, welcomed the proposed expansion of the mandate to include the conditions of detention centers.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 March 2011 13:37
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