No war or exceptional circumstances can justify enforced disappearances [fr]
Missing persons in armed conflict
Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations
Security Council - 11 June 2019
At the outset, I would like to welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, and warmly congratulate him on his country’s assumption of the presidency of the Security Council and for taking the initiative to convene today’s important meeting. Like my German colleague, I congratulate the Permanent Representative of Kuwait and his entire team. It is to that country’s credit, marked as it has been by a conflict that left thousands of families without news of their loved ones, that it has convened the Council to address the issue of missing persons in armed conflict for the first time.
I would also like to thank Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and Ms. Reena Ghelani, Director of Operations and Advocacy of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for their briefings and commitment.The issue of missing persons is inherent to all armed conflicts, but it has been particularly acute in recent years. That is why France welcomes resolution 2474 (2019), which the Council has just adopted and which powerfully reaffirms the obligations that flow from the international humanitarian law and human rights law on the subject.
In that regard, I want to highlight two main points.
The first is the need for the parties to a conflict to prevent and respond to this issue, which relates to the protection of those who have not participated or are no longer participating in the hostilities in an armed conflict, while the second is the crucial importance of protecting people from enforced disappearances, including in times of armed conflict.
The starting point for our efforts in the Council is as much about the need to ensure respect for the obligations under international humanitarian law on the parties to an armed conflict as it is about a moral imperative. The suffering of the relatives of missing persons demands that of us.
The pain of not knowing what has happened to a loved one is unbearable and inconsolable. Has that son or husband who was a member of the Syrian opposition been detained in the regime’s prisons or killed under torture, like thousands of detainees? From Sri Lanka and Kosovo to Colombia, on every continent, conflicts have left thousands of missing persons in their wake. That is why it is essential for the Security Council to call on the parties to prevent disappearances, help the families of the disappeared reunite and enable the exchange of information about them and support for their families. They must also guarantee people’s right to the truth.
In order to do that, it is crucial to cooperate with the ICRC, whose excellent work I want to commend once again, especially the Central Tracing Agency, which runs the Family Links Network. State action has to be deployed in complementarity with all the dedicated mechanisms and humanitarian organizations on the ground.
That is what France does in its areas of operation. French forces inform the ICRC systematically and as soon as possible about the people involved in hostilities whom they have detained, after they have been given a medical examination, and ensures the ICRC’s access to them, in accordance with international humanitarian law. They also report their transfer to host countries and ensure that they have adequate guarantees from the authorities of the States concerned so that those who are being returned to them do not run the risk of enforced disappearance. After fighting has occurred, they report to the ICRC the location of the graves of the deceased, who are buried with dignity and in accordance with the rules of international humanitarian law. France contributes to efforts to identify and search for missing persons, whether civilians or combatants, keeping in mind the concerns of relatives. Those are the same obligations for parties involved in conflicts that France itself respects with regard to soldiers of its own who are missing in combat.
At the United Nations, France supports recognizing disappeared-person status for Blue Helmets and developing a policy that takes that status fully into account. Respect for the families of the disappeared and the principles of responsibility, prevention and reparation are at stake.
My second point is about the issue of enforced disappearances.
No war or exceptional circumstances can justify them. The disappearance of a person is an extremely serious crime when it is the result of deliberate action by a State that is followed by a denial of that disappearance or by concealing the truth about the person’s fate and whereabouts. Widespread or systematic enforced disappearance is a crime against humanity, and in that connection I want to emphasize the role of the International Criminal Court and the investigative mechanisms whose job it is to collect the evidence of such crimes. Those crimes are certainly not a thing of the past or of a particular region. In that regard, I would like to remind the Council of the November 2018 report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Death Notifications in the Syrian Arab Republic, which describes the fact that tens of thousands of people are missing in Syria after being in the hands of pro-Government forces. Death certificates, when they exist, are a charade. They do not provide the credible response that is expected by families, who are left, sometimes for years, in uncertainty about the real circumstances of the disappearance and the fate of their relatives, or who cannot give them a burial once they have learned of their death. Those certificates issued by the regime cannot absolve it of crimes for which it still has to answer.
In that context, France, which was a sponsor of resolution 2474 (2019), regrets that the text does not explicitly mention the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which is a crucial instrument for combating disappearances in times of peace as well as of war, and to guarantee the right to the truth. That is why France calls on all States to ratify it and cooperate with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
In conclusion, my country solemnly reaffirms the importance of upholding respect for international humanitarian law as we celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. It is important that States take concrete steps to strengthen their implementation, which is why, together with Germany, France will launch a humanitarian call to action to which our Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, committed on 1 April, alongside his German counterpart, Heiko Maas. The universal ratification of the relevant conventions, such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance the Rome Statute, are part of that.