The Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) oversees implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (“the Convention”) through its consideration of State reports, individual complaints, and inter-State complaints; requests for urgent action and inquiries; and, its preparation of general comments, substantive statements, and thematic discussions. As of October 2021, 64 States are parties to the Convention.
- WORKING METHODS
- CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
- RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The CED consists of 10 independent experts who are elected for four-year terms by States parties to the Convention. See Convention, art. 26. Each member must be a national of a State party, of high moral character, and have recognized competence in the field of international human rights. See id. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) webpage on Elections of Treaty Body Members contains additional information on the election process.
The CED holds two meeting sessions in Geneva, Switzerland every year, with each session lasting approximately two weeks. The schedule of past and upcoming CED sessions is available online, and the OHCHR maintains a Master Calendar of all UN Member States’ upcoming treaty body reviews.
A State party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances must submit an initial report within two years of acceding to the treaty. See Convention, art. 29. On the basis of the State’s report, as well as input from civil society organizations, the CED evaluates the government’s implementation of the Convention. The initial report and subsequent periodic reports must include both: (1) a common core document, and (2) a treaty-specific document. In the common core document, the State should provide general information about the country, its government, and the national framework for protecting and promoting human rights.
With regard to the treaty-specific document, the CED has published guidelines on what information a State must submit with regard to each article of the Convention. See CED, Guidelines on the form and content of reports under article 29 to be submitted by States parties to the Convention, adopted by the Committee at its second session (26–30 March 2012), UN Doc. CED/C/2, 8 June 2012. For more information on the required form and content of reports, see the UN Secretary General’s Compilation of Guidelines on the Form and Content of Reports to be Submitted by States Parties to the International Human Rights Treaties, UN Doc. HRI/GEN/2/Rev.6, 3 June 2009.
After receiving the State’s report, the CED will hold a pre-session meeting to draft a list of issues on which it intends to focus. The State party is expected to transmit a short reply to the list of issues. During one of its semi-annual sessions, the CED will then engage in an in-person constructive dialogue with the relevant State party’s representatives. As discussed in greater detail below, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders may participate in the review by submitting “alternative” or “shadow” reports and may also observe the constructive dialogue.
After the CED examines each State’s report, it adopts concluding observations following a closed plenary meeting. Generally, each set of concluding observations is formatted to include: (1) a brief introduction, (2) a section on positive aspects the State has followed in the Convention, (3) subjects of concern and related recommendations, and (4) follow-up and requests for dissemination. Should the CED note pressing issues of concern, it may then request the State party to submit additional information. See Convention, art. 29. The CED also maintains a current list of concluding observations.
Throughout this process, two members of the CED serve as country rapporteurs and are responsible for conducting the State party’s review and facilitating the process of developing the list of issues and drafting concluding observations.
The CED is authorized to consider complaints by individuals concerning violations of the Convention if the State allegedly responsible for those violations has made the necessary declaration under Article 31 of the Convention. See Convention, art. 31. As of October 2021, 23 States have accepted the complaints procedure.
The CED will first make a decision on the admissibility of the individual complaint based on the criteria set forth in Article 31 of the Convention and its Rules of Procedure. If the complaint is admissible, the CED will then issue a decision on the merits in which it indicates whether or not the State is responsible for violating the Convention.
Complaints may be submitted using the model complaint form which asks complainants to identify: (1) basic information regarding the author of the communication and the victim of the enforced disappearance, (2) the State party the complaint is directed against, (3) a chronological list of relevant facts, (4) the Convention rights allegedly violated, (5) information regarding exhaustion of available domestic remedies, (6) whether the complaint has been submitted to other international procedures, and (7) whether the individual also requests interim measures. All individual complaints should be submitted to the Petitions Team mailing address:
Petitions and Inquiries Section
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
More information for the procedure on individual complaints can be found in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ 23 Frequently Asked Questions about Treaty Body Complaints Procedure and Procedure for Complaints by Individuals under the Human Rights Treaties webpage.
Article 32 of the Convention provides a mechanism for a State to complain about violations of the Convention committed by another State. See Convention, art. 32. Both States concerned must have made declarations accepting this procedure, or the complaint will not be considered. This procedure for inter-State complaints, however, has never been used.
The CED accepts requests for urgent action needed to seek and find a disappeared person. See Convention, art. 30. If a request for urgent action meets the CED’s requirements, the CED will request that the State provide information on the disappeared person’s situation and may make recommendations to the government, including that it take all steps necessary to locate and protect the person. The CED’s recommendations may also include “interim measures,” which means it will formally request the State to take whatever actions necessary to avoid causing or allowing irreparable harm to the victim.
A request for urgent action must: (1) be in writing, (2) not be anonymous, (3) reference a State party to the Convention, and (4) be submitted by representatives of the disappeared person or anyone with a legitimate interest in finding him or her. A request will not normally be granted if: (1) the request has not been duly presented to competent bodies of the State party concerned if such a possibility exists, (2) the same matter is already under examination by a similar mechanism of international investigation, such as the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, or (3) the request refers to an enforced disappearance that began before the State concerned became a party to the Convention. Requests should be made using the model form and submitted to:
Committee on Enforced Disappearances
Human Rights Treaties Division
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
United Nations Office at Geneva
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 917 90 22
E-Mail: [email protected]
Complaints of Systematic Violations (Inquiry Procedures)
The CED may investigate allegations concerning serious violations of any of the rights set forth in the Convention on enforced disappearances. See Convention, art. 33. When it receives credible information regarding serious violations by a State party, the CED may send one or more Committee members to conduct an in-person investigation by visiting the country concerned. Following a visit, the CED provides the State party with its written observations and recommendations.
Moreover, if the CED receives information tending to show that enforced disappearances are occurring on a widespread or systematic basis in a specific State party’s territory, it may bring the matter to the attention of the UN General Assembly after seeking additional information from the State. See Convention, art. 34.
Like other UN human rights treaty bodies, the CED’s mandate includes issuing general comments to clarify the scope and meaning of the Convention’s articles. General comments are intended to help guide States in their implementation of the Convention and address priority issues related to the treaty’s subject matter. Any general comments that the CED issues in the future should be listed in the UN Treaty Body Database or on the CED’s webpage.
Open Letters and Statements
The CED also issues substantive statements on issues relevant to its mandate, which have included topics such as strengthening the human rights body system and the impartiality of its members.
Thematic Discussions and Conferences
The CED holds thematic discussions with various stakeholders regarding issues such as enforced disappearances and military justice, trafficking, the responsibility of the State and non-state actors, and women, children and enforced disappearances. These discussions generally take place during the CED’s sessions and are announced on the CED’s webpage.
CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION
NGOs and other civil society groups do not require ECOSOC consultative status to engage with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. Furthermore, any group may submit information to the CED or prepare an individual complaint or request for urgent action on behalf of a victim. Certain requirements, including prior registration, regulate civil society organizations’ participation in-person in the Committee’s sessions, however. See the CED’s Civil Society webpage for additional information.
The CED encourages NGOs to provide country-specific information regarding States’ implementation of the Convention during the State review process. Submissions should: (1) provide the full name of the organization, (2) identify the State party to which the information relates, (3) indicate whether the submission should be kept confidential or can be posted, (4) not contain names of victims, unless consent is obtained by the victims themselves or the victims’ relatives, and (5) be submitted in English, French, or Spanish (although English is preferable as the Committee’s working language). Such reports should be submitted electronically in both PDF and Word document formats to [email protected].
If an NGO or other civil society stakeholder wishes to attend a CED session in which a State party’s report is considered, they are requested to bring 20 hard copies of their “alternative report” to be distributed at the meeting. Otherwise, the organization should deliver 20 hard copies of the alternative report to the Secretariat of the CED at least two weeks in advance of the session.
All NGOs and civil society stakeholders are also welcome to attend CED sessions as observers, in which case they will not be given the opportunity to address the CED. However, during the scheduled dates of the session, civil society representatives may raise issues of concern with the CED members in either formal meetings or informal briefings. To arrange either type of meeting, contact the CED’s Secretariat at least one month prior to the beginning of the session at [email protected].
All NGOs and civil society representatives that intend to attend a CED session must be accredited by creating an account and registering through the United Nations Indico system. Details on the deadlines and other requirements for each session will be listed as “Information note for NGOs” on the Committee on Enforced Disappearances’ webpage for the relevant session.
RESEARCH AND ADDITIONAL SOURCES
The Committee’s outputs can be found on its website and are linked to in the relevant sections above. The UN Treaty Body Database also collects these documents, which may be searched by several criteria, but not by keyword or subject matter. For additional research tools, view the Research Aids section of this Online Resource Hub.
Another useful resource is the International Service for Human Rights’ Simple Guide to UN Treaty Bodies (2010), which examines each treaty bodies’ reports, individual communications, State-to-State complaints, inquiry procedures, urgent interventions, general comments, and how NGOs can engage with treaty bodies.