Inaugural Session Accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Presentation

by Mary Aileen Diez- Bacalso, Secretary-General, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances Organizers of this conference, families of the disappeared in Bangladesh, honored guests, friends, ladies and gentlemen, The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and its other member-organizations and partners in India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor Leste extend its solidarity with the families of the disappeared in Bangladesh especially on this occasion. In 2011, in view of the common phenomenon of enforced disappearances in this country, the AFAD added to its list of member-organizations the Odhikar, whom we commend as one of the leading human rights organizations in this country that champion the cause of the disappeared and their families and victims of other forms of human rights violations. From then on, we have been conducting joint actions, linking arms to eradicate enforced disappearances from the face of the earth. This conference on the Accession to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons From Enforced Disappearance is an apt response to the pressing need for ratifications in Asia – a region that submitted the highest number of cases to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in recent years. Looking back, after the drafting and negotiation of the Convention in Geneva from 2003-2005 and during the UN General Assembly in 2005, the AFAD who consistently and actively participated in the drafting and negotiation process of the Convention, made a last ditch effort to speak to some governments in New York to ensure that no government would oppose the adoption of the Convention. One of the government representatives whom we spoke with was that of Bangladesh, who diplomatically neither objected nor supported the Convention. The 2011 report of the UN WGEID states that “enforced disappearance in Bangladesh is frequently being used as a tool by the country’s law-enforcement agencies, paramilitary and armed forces to detain and even extra-judicially execute individuals. According to sources, enforced disappeared persons were abducted by plain-clothed armed men, who introduced themselves as officers of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). They were handcuffed and blindfolded and taken into the RAB's custody and detained for several months in unknown locations without any contact. During detention, they were reportedly regularly tortured. The Working Group was also informed that the victims were detained for four to eight months without any record being kept by any of the country's institutions. “ On individual cases, the cases of Rajkumar Sanayaima Rajkumar and Mr. Mohammad Rafiqul Islam were submitted as urgent action cases. Obviously, however the problem of underreporting is evident as there are still many other cases of disappearances which remain unreported.

Bangladesh is one of the 27 Asian countries out of the 87 countries worldwide that have outstanding cases of enforced disappearances, as per the 2011 report of the UN WGEID. There are 553,788 outstanding cases reported worldwide according to the 2011 report of the UN WGEID. The global magnitude of enforced disappearances prompted the United Nations to adopt the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This treaty is a product of the sufferings and years of struggle of families of the disappeared, first in Latin America and later, as enforced disappearances spread throughout the world, in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and the EuroMediterranean region. Its text, which stems from true-to-life experiences of families of the disappeared from various parts of the world, was adopted by the former UN Commission on Human Rights on 23 September 2005, adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2006 then by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2006. The treaty entered into force on 23 December 2010 after Iraq deposited the 20th instrument of ratification to the Secretary-General of the UN. A few months after the entry into force of the Convention, the UN Committee Against Enforced Disappearances was established, which is composed of 10 individual experts, one of whom is with us in the person of Mr. Rainer Huhle. It is tasked to ensure implementation of the Convention by States Parties. To date, there are 91 signatories and 34 States Parties, only 15 of which have recognized the competence of the Committee Against Enforced Disappearances. Bangladesh is neither a signatory much less a State Party to this important treaty. The substance of the Convention strongly responds to the needs of families of the disappeared, especially so that its very concept was first a dream by families of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) during its founding Congress in San Jose, Costa Rica in 1981. This treaty is not just a product of the legal minds of UN Member-States representatives, but more importantly a result of concrete experiences of enforced disappearances by grandmothers, mothers, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters of disappeared persons. When its final text was adopted by then UN Commission on Human Rights, the able chair of the then Inter-Sessional Working Group to Adopt a Legally-Binding Normative Instrument for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances in September 2005, the late His Excellency French Ambassador Bernard Kessedjian offered the packaged document of the treaty to president of Argentina’s Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Linea Fundadora, Martha Ocampo de Vasquez, who, then in her 80s (now in her 90s) contributed in no small measure to the strength of this treaty. A strong regional legal instrument or procedural mechanism to protect, promote and uphold human rights, be it a Convention, a Commission or a court is absent in Asia. Latin America has its InterAmerican Human Rights System and the Inter-American Convention on Enforced Disappearances while Europe has a number of human rights instruments. Africa on its part has a number of human rights treaties with a Commission and a Court on Human and People’s Rights. For Asian people, the UN is the only venue that families of the disappeared can use. Further, not a single country in Asia has a national law criminalizing enforced disappearances as an autonomous crime under domestic law. Thus, this Convention is very important especially to us here in Asia, a region which is bereft of regional mechanisms for human rights protection.

The Convention is a very strong legally binding instrument which explicitly provides States obligations to prevent and suppress the practice of enforced disappearance. It establishes a new non-derogable right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance. It provides, among other things, the right of the relatives of disappeared persons and of society as a whole to know the truth regarding the circumstances of enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation and the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared person. It also obliges States Parties to codify enforced disappearance as an autonomous offense under its criminal law and punish it by appropriate penalties which take into account its extreme seriousness. When the government of Bangladesh sought membership and later re-election as member of the UN Human Rights Council, it voluntary pledged full cooperation with the Council in promoting and protecting human rights through dialogue, cooperation and capacity building. As its term ends in 2012, Bangladesh has to concretely account the fulfilment of its pledges. Governments, such as Chile and other members of the Latin American and Caribbean group recommended to Bangladesh the accession to the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances among other human rights treaties during its first Universal Periodic Review in February 2009. On 22 April – 3 May 2012, it is scheduled for a second round of review. One of the very important accomplishments that the government of Bangladesh could report in its next round of Universal Periodic Review is the ratification of this Convention. Doing so would make Bangladesh the first South Asian country to be a Party to this important treaty, an act which would indeed be a concrete manifestation of the fulfilment of its voluntary pledges as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. We, in the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, have repeatedly heard the cry of the families of the disappeared in their never-ending search for their disappeared loved ones. We have accompanied them in military camps, in morgues and in places where disappeared people are possibly dumped. We have marched with them to echo the cause of the disappeared to the public, joined them in pleading government agencies to help us find their loved ones. We look forward to the dawning of the day when they shall cry no more, when truth shall be ferretted out and justice and peace shall emerge triumphant. Thus, may I end by reiterating our call to the government of Bangladesh to stop enforced disappearances NOW. Further, we call on its immediate signing and ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and its recognition of the competence of the Committee Against Enforced Disappearances (UN CED). Thank you very much.