2022-09-25

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Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and Starts Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries – OHCHR

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20 September 2022

Press releases
Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and started an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries . It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
Luciano Hazan, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said that over its 30 years, the Working Group had worked tirelessly to help the relatives of the disappeared, and would continue to do so. There was greater awareness about this egregious crime, and about legislative tools to combat it. But its face was changing, and there were new and alarming trends that needed to be tackled. Many incidents of enforced disappearances were not reported, and there were reprisals against those who did report them. The changes required new responsibilities from the Working Group and the international community in general, and the Working Group was investigating how new technologies could be used both to investigate and document human rights violations, as well as how they could be used to restrict freedoms.
Mr. Hazan spoke about the Working Group’s visit to Cyprus and Cyprus spoke as a country concerned.
In the ensuing discussion, many speakers outlined national measures implemented to locate victims of enforced disappearance, train defence and security forces on the issue, bring those responsible to justice, and ensure repatriation. Enforced or involuntary disappearances were crimes against humanity and should not be tolerated. Many speakers welcomed the Working Group’s report and underlined the importance of its efforts to combat enforced disappearances. Some speakers said that some parties abused the mechanisms of the Working Group by providing it with false allegations and information. These speakers called on the Working Group to devote more efforts to verifying the truthfulness of claims.
Speaking in the interactive discussion were Lithuania on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, European Union, Organization of American States, Belgium on behalf of the three countries of the Benelux, Argentina on behalf of a group of countries, France, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Maldives, Venezuela, South Africa, Russian Federation, China, Honduras, Syrian Arab Republic, Armenia, Cameroon, United States, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Croatia, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Ukraine, Yemen, Niger, Azerbaijan, Thailand, Portugal, Cuba, Kenya, United Kingdom, Malawi, Serbia, Japan, Greece, Turkey, Gambia, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tunisia, Cambodia, and Ecuador.
Also speaking were Commission Nationale Indépendante des droits de l’homme du Burundi , and Human Rights Defender’s Office of the Republic of Armenia, as well as the following non-governmental organizations: International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement, Asian Legal Resource Centre, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Peace Brigades International, Organization for Poverty Alleviation and Development, Meezaan Center for Human Rights, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada.
The Council also started an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries.
Sorcha Macleod, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, said that the thematic report of the Working Group focused on the issue of lack of access to justice, accountability, and remedies for victims of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies. The Working Group had observed with concern the increasing use of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies worldwide in conflict, post-conflict and peacetime contexts, including in so-called proxy wars. A key step in achieving justice for victims was ensuring effective accountability for the violations perpetrated by mercenaries. The Working Group further called upon States to adopt an international legally binding instrument on the activities of private military and security companies, and to ensure consistent regulation at the national level. Further, States needed to provide effective and equitable public services, including criminal and civil justice, legal aid, support and reparation to victims.
In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said the roles and actions of mercenaries should not be confused with the activities of private military and security companies, the use of which was lawful in certain circumstances. The growing violations of human rights spread by mercenaries and other actors were not adequately addressed by existing accountability measures, nor were there adequate tools for redress. There should be an international instrument and body allowing for the international community to investigate allegations of mercenary activities, and to access justice. A speaker pointed out that the Working Group’s work would prove to be more effective if its scope were to focus more clearly on mercenaries and mercenary-related activities.
Speaking in the interactive discussion were the European Union, Libya, Cuba, Iraq, Luxembourg, Afghanistan, Panama, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Namibia, China, Armenia, Cameroon, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Greece, Malawi, Iran, Tunisia, and France.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order.
In the discussion, some speakers said that non-State armed groups needed to be disarmed and dismantled, and there was a need for increased resources for the United Nations and more peacemakers to achieve peace. Peace could be achieved through dialogue, multilateralism, cooperation and other non-violent means. There was a need for structural reforms of key United Nations bodies, some speakers said. Respect for international human rights and humanitarian law, and for social and economic development was essential for maintaining international peace and security. Some speakers called on the Independent Expert to address the effect of unilateral coercive measures on peace.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Sewanyana said it was imperative to achieve peace and security for the development of just and peaceful international law. States had a duty to tackle threats thereto, including climate change, and should avoid the use of force in dealings with each other. It was important for States to avoid unilateralism and the use of unilateral coercive measures. The General Assembly needed to call for the reform of the Security Council so that it would be democratic, representative, and relevant. The geo-political divide was a threat not only to world peace but also to world development.
Speaking in the interactive discussion were International-Lawyers.Org, Centre for Global Nonkilling, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Medical Support Association for Underprivileged Iranian Patients, Jameh Ehyagaran Teb Sonnati Va Salamat Iranian, China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS), Shaanxi Patriotic Volunteer Association, and Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here . All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-first regular session can be found here .
The next meeting of the Council will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon, when it will conclude its interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries. It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste. This will be followed by a briefing by the President of the Economic and Social Council on the discussions of the high-level political forum on sustainable development. After this, the Council will hear presentations of thematic reports by the United Nations Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed by a general debate on the Council’s agenda item three on the promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order
The interactive dialogue with Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.
Discussion
In the continued interactive dialogue, a speaker said that increasing numbers of armed groups were a threat to international security. Some speakers said that non-State armed groups needed to be disarmed and dismantled, and there was a need for increased resources for the United Nations and more peacemakers to achieve peace. Peace could be achieved through dialogue, multilateralism, cooperation and other non-violent means. There was a need for structural reforms of key United Nations bodies, some speakers said. Respect for international human rights and humanitarian law and social and economic development was essential for maintaining international peace and security.
One speaker said that the report did not elaborate on how the United Nations could address conflicts. The United Nations had recently been slow to react to conflict. Some speakers called on the Expert to address the effect of unilateral coercive measures on peace. A speaker called for the drafting of an international patriotic convention and the establishment of a patriotic commission to ensure global peace.
Concluding Remarks
LIVINGSTONE SEWANYANA, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said it was imperative to achieve peace and security for the development of just and peaceful international law. States had a duty to tackle threats thereto, including climate change, and should avoid the use of force in dealings with each other in order to foster a culture of peace, embracing multilateralism, dialogue and negotiation. It was important for States to avoid unilateralism and the use of unilateral coercive measures. States should avoid the growing geo-political divide which tended to shroud their ability to cooperate jointly.
The Summit of the Future which the United Nations intended to convene in 2023 should be seen as an opportunity to re-examine the United Nations Charter and for States to re-commit themselves thereto. On the right to self-determination, this was a very important ideal, and was one of the requirements or provisions well enshrined in the Charter. It required adherence to the Charter itself, and for States to cooperate in order to promote good governance and in a spirit of multilateralism, which would allow them to manage this issue. On the reform of the Security Council, the General Assembly needed to reassert itself – it was one of the most important organs that needed to ensure that it lived up to its obligations, and needed to call for reform so that the Security Council would be democratic, representative and relevant. The geo-political divide was a threat not only to world peace but also to world development.
Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Reports
The Council has before it the report (A/HRC/51/31) of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on the cases it has recently addressed, and on its visit to Cyprus (A/HRC/51/31/Add.1).
 
Presentation of Reports
LUCIANO HAZAN, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said the Working Group welcomed the inputs from States and persons in response to their request for contributions. On Friday, 23 September, the Working Group would hold an event to honour the Declaration. Over its 30 years, the Working Group had worked tirelessly to help the relatives of the disappeared, and would continue to do so. There was greater awareness about this egregious crime, and about legislative tools to combat it. But its face was changing, and there were new and alarming trends that needed to be tackled.
Many incidents of enforced disappearances were not reported, and there were reprisals against those who did report them. The changes required new responsibilities from the Working Group and the international community in general, and the Working Group was investigating how new technologies could be used both to investigate and document human rights violations, as well as how they could be used to restrict freedoms. The Working Group had already carried out a meeting with experts and intended to call for inputs from different stakeholders in this regard. During the period covered by the annual report, the Working Group had been able to visit several countries, a fundamental part of the fulfilment of its mandate.
The Group visited Cyprus, and thanked the Government for its invitation and openness and cooperation it provided. The division in Cyprus had had an impact on the protection and promotion of human rights in general, including truth, justice, and the memory of those who disappeared. There was significant progress made in terms of searches, but it had slowed down in recent years, and tall challenges remained, in particular bearing in mind the date of the disappearances, and thus it was vital to depoliticise the issue and deal with it as a humanitarian and human rights issue: there could only be progress if there was clear and transparent cooperation between all stakeholders, and a commitment to put an end to the pain and anguish of all families. The international community needed to continue to work until it put an end to this scourge, and States needed to work together to eliminate the horrible crime that was enforced disappearances, built around the specific needs of the victims and their families, shedding light on the situation, and bringing relief to all those involved.
Statement by Country Concerned
Cyprus , speaking as a country concerned, said that the fate of the missing remained an open wound in Cyprus. With every passing year, the prospect of discovering remains grew thinner. Initial burial sites and reburial sites needed to be accessed to examine remains. Cyprus had been steadfastly pushing for the opening of burial sites, including in restricted military areas. It called on Türkiye to open these areas. Cyprus’ approach had been to avoid politicisation. The Working Group could help to facilitate the search for the remaining missing persons, and the Government would continue to work toward this goal.
Discussion
Many speakers outlined national measures implemented to locate victims of enforced disappearance, train defence and security forces on the issue, bring those responsible to justice, and ensure repatriation. There had been an increase in enforced disappearances in certain countries due to authoritarian regimes, military aggression, and deteriorating security situations, some speakers said. The crime affected not only the victims but also their families and communities. Enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention were crimes against humanity and should not be tolerated.
Many speakers welcomed the Working Group’s report and underlined the importance of its efforts to combat enforced disappearances. They called on States to authorise visits of the Working Group, and encouraged States to adopt the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. It was important that States cooperated to end the practice, and adopted a comprehensive policy on enforced disappearance that incorporated truth, justice and reparation measures, a speaker said. All detained persons must have the right to inform their families of their detainment. Compensation and psychosocial support needed to be provided to victims and their families. New technologies such as drones could be used in the search for missing persons, one speaker said.
Some speakers said that some parties abused the mechanisms of the Working Group by providing it with false allegations and information. These speakers called on the Working Group to devote more efforts to verifying the truthfulness of claims. The Working Group needed to carry out its investigations objectively, stop interfering with the internal affairs of States, and stop politicising the issue, some speakers said. One speaker said that there needed to be a review of the mandate of the Working Group.
Interim Remarks
LUCIANO HAZAN, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said the Working Group sent non-governmental organizations a message of openness – the Working Group was open to listening to them through all sessions and through relevant mechanisms. On the comments from Cyprus, that country was thanked for its commitment to the recommendations made in the report. This was an example for States that had been through conflicts, and showed the importance of not politicising the search for the disappeared. There should be as much participation as possible at the grass-roots level. Iraq was commended for its decision to receive a visit, which was an important step forward. As for Indonesia and the process to ratify the Convention, the Working Group stood open to further cooperation. The Working Group dealt with complaints it had received in good faith and in the context of its mandate and working methods.
Many States complained that the Working Group was biased and was working against them, said Mr. Hazan, but stressed that it operated with the highest standards of impartiality and objectivity. On the comments from the Russian Federation, the information that the Working Group had received from various sources and human rights organizations, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Ukraine, indicated that many of the disappearances were perpetrated by soldiers from the Russian Federation and affiliated armed groups. The Working Group had received convincing information that the people who disappeared in some areas had been sent to the Russian Federation, which implied a certain coordination. The Working Group would continue to count the figures and statistics in this regard, and would send the cases to the relevant authorities.
Discussion
Some speakers described cases of enforced disappearance occurring in specific countries. Some presented measures implemented nationally to investigate enforced disappearance, bring those responsible to justice, and provide reparation. Human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, and political opponents were often the targets of enforced disappearances. Non-State armed groups were often responsible for acts of enforced disappearance, some speakers said, and there was a need to disarm and disband these groups. Enforced disappearances were a violation of the human rights of victims, harmed their families and their communities, and undermined the rule of law. Families had the right to know the truth about missing relatives.
Many speakers called on States to cooperate with the Working Group, accept invitations for country visits, ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and enforce its provisions. States needed to adopt effective legislative measures to prevent threats to life, torture, reprisals against whistle-blowers, and impunity of offenders. Severe sanctions needed to be imposed on offenders. Some speakers called for the opening of military sites, burial sites and archives to allow for investigations into enforced disappearances to be conducted. No countries should obstruct efforts to investigate enforced disappearances. Identifying, exhuming and returning the remains of victims was essential. States needed to provide reparation to victims and affected persons, as well as guarantees of non-recurrence.
One speaker said that the Working Group dealt with false allegations. The speaker urged the Working Group not to politicise issues, and to investigate allegations objectively.
Concluding Remarks
LUCIANO HAZAN, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, urged all States to submit information and contributions to the Working Group when it sent out a call and asked questions. With respect to what was said by Pakistan, he urged that country to continue to respond to communications and individual cases, in particular with regard to the amendments made to the Criminal Code which ran counter to the spirit of the law to criminalise enforced disappearances. On Syria, it was very important that the Working Group received cooperation from the Syrian authorities, otherwise, the Working Group’s mandate was limited as a channel between the State and the families of missing persons. It was crucial to establish all places of detention, with full lists of names and registers of those in detention. The Working Group continued to support the requests from the families of missing persons in Syria for the establishment of an independent special search mechanism, which was a priority for the Working Group and should be a priority for the international community.
Subsequent to the Working Group’s visit to Cyprus, it had spoken with the Turkish Government on that aspect, and the relevant sections of the report had been shared with Türkiye ahead of time. However, no response had been received. On Bangladesh, the State was urged to respond to a general allegation conveyed last year on the alleged forced disappearance that took place at the hands of the Rapid Action Battalion, and the undue pressure on human rights organizations. Attention needed to be given to implementing the recommendations of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and victims’ voices should be heard. On Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Working Group, in terms of this conflict, as indeed all others, believed that the issue of disappeared persons in armed conflict should not be treated as a bargaining chip, and all persons should be registered as prisoners of war and allowed to communicate with their families, along with all legal safeguards being upheld.
Concerning Kenya, the Working Group hoped to confirm a date for a visit soon. On Gambia and the implementation of post-visit recommendations, the Working Group remained open to cooperation. With regard to other questions, the Working Group was concerned about wide-spread impunity around the world for enforced disappearances, as it was a State crime committed often with the participation of intelligence agencies, and was an exercise of the underground power of States.
Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries
Report
The Council has before it the report (A/HRC/51/25) of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, on access to justice, accountability and remedies for victims of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors and private military and security companies .
Presentation of Report
SORCHA MACLEOD, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, said that the thematic report of the Working Group focused on the issue of lack of access to justice, accountability, and remedies for victims of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies. It reflected on the different impacts of these actions on victims and explored the challenges encountered by victims in accessing justice. The Working Group had observed with concern the increasing use of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies worldwide in conflict, post-conflict and peacetime contexts. Third-party States not involved in armed conflicts were increasingly inserting themselves into conflicts by recruiting, training, financing and deploying mercenaries in so-called proxy wars.
The report again warned that recruitment, financing, use and transfer of these actors prolonged conflicts, amplified levels of violence, increased substantially the risk of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and undermined peace efforts. Private military and security companies were increasingly occupying new public spaces, and repositioning themselves to appeal to new markets. In some cases, their services increased the likelihood of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The profile of individuals affected by such activities continued to expand.
Multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination shaped how individuals experienced violations committed by such actors. Minority groups experienced differentiated and disproportionate human rights impacts, and obstacles in seeking access to justice and accountability. Military groups also conducted harmful recruitment practices. These practices raised concerns about forced recruitment and trafficking of people for the purpose of providing mercenary-related services and activities.
The Working Group urged an intersectional, victim-centred approach to accessing justice and remedy. A key step in achieving justice for victims was ensuring effective accountability for the violations perpetrated by mercenaries and mercenary-related actors. States must investigate, prosecute and ensure the non-applicability of statutes of limitation or immunities for such crimes. The Working Group further called upon States to adopt an international legally binding instrument on the activities of private military and security companies, as well as ensure consistent regulation at the national level. Further, States needed to provide effective and equitable public services, including criminal and civil justice, legal aid, and support to victims. All remedial mechanisms needed to account for the diverse experiences and expectations of victims, and reparations for victims needed to be accessible, affordable, timely, full and effective.
Discussion
In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said the roles and actions of mercenaries, a category specifically defined in international law, should not be confused with the activities of private military and security companies, the use of which was lawful in certain circumstances. The use of mercenaries and terrorist organizations as a form of waging proxy war undermined international peace and security and led to greater violations of human rights. The growing use of mercenaries and other analogous actors had an impact not only on human rights but also on international humanitarian law, and there were ever more incidents with the victims lacking access to justice. It was important to focus on victims, but also to not lose sight of the causes of the incidents, and the roles played by various actors.
The growing violations of human rights spread by mercenaries and other actors were not adequately addressed by existing accountability measures, nor were there adequate tools for redress. There should be an international instrument and body allowing for the international community to investigate allegations of mercenary activities, and to access justice. It was noteworthy that no such mechanism currently existed. The work of the mercenary companies should be codified in accordance with international human rights law, and their work regulated to prevent human rights violations, and ensure liability in case these took place. Private security company staff should be aware of human rights principles, and strict regulation of their activities and those of mercenaries were a sine qua non. An inter-sectoral victim approach required a holistic outlook.

One speaker pointed out that the Working Group’s work would prove to be more effective if its scope were to focus more clearly on mercenaries and mercenary-related activities. Further, confusion may arise with regards to the difference between mercenaries and private security companies, with the use of the latter not being unlawful in all situations, a speaker said. The ongoing presence of armed mercenaries in armed conflict and the growing risk of human rights violations and war crimes was of concern, as their presence led to escalation and increase in hostilities, often in violation of States’ right to self-determination. One speaker said the use of mercenaries was a crime against peace and against humanity, and it was time to review international legal norms in that regard.
Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media;
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.

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