New Paper Discusses Migrants’ Enforced Disappearances and the Contribution of UN Human Rights Mechanisms

19 May 2021

Our new working paper Preventing and Addressing Enforced Disappearances in the Context of International Migration – The Contribution of International Human Rights Mechanisms analyses the contribution of international human rights mechanisms in preventing and addressing enforced disappearances in the context of international migration.

‘From the discovery of 72 migrants’ bodies in Tamaulipas, Mexico, back in 2010 to regular reports on the disappearance of migrants in Libya and elsewhere, this phenomenon is often overlooked due to a lack of statistical data and migrants’ precarious situation’ explains Felix Kirchmeier, Manager of Policy Studies at the Geneva Academy and Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

‘This working paper aims at shining light on this phenomenon and on the protection afforded by international human rights mechanisms during migrants’ journey, in countries of destination and in the context of the principle of non-refoulement he adds.

The Key Role of International Human Rights Mechanisms

Written by the Human Rights Consultant Britta Nicolmann, the paper provides a unique overview of the significant role played by international human rights mechanisms – UN treaty bodies and Charter-based mechanisms – in addressing enforced disappearances in the context of international migration, notably by providing comprehensive guidance to states on their obligations, by highlighting and addressing country-specific contexts and by following up on concrete cases.

The paper also shows that international human rights mechanisms have formulated recommendations with regard to specific groups like disappeared women and girls, disappeared children and children of disappeared parents. They have also recommended measures to include the victim´s relatives in search and investigation processes and to ensure their right to justice and truth. Equally significant, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and other international human rights mechanisms confirm that enforced disappearance constitutes a form of prosecution that falls within the principle of non-refoulement.

Finally, international human rights mechanisms have developed comprehensive and differentiated recommendations and guidelines concerning human rights violations that may increase the risk of enforced disappearance in the context of international migration. These relate to the arbitrary detention of migrants, deportations and expulsion procedures, trafficking and/or smuggling of migrants, discrimination, racial profiling and the lack of centralized databases and statistical data on missing migrants.

A Specific Focus on Mexico

As an illustration, the paper looks into the specific example of Mexico, which demonstrates how international human rights mechanisms integrate the monitoring of enforced disappearances in the context of international migration into their respective mandates.

Towards Greater Exchanges on this Issue

Members of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances discussed this paper during a closed-door meeting facilitated by the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

‘It is exactly those discussions on issues of common concern and of overlapping mandates that we try to address in the series of Treaty Body Members’ Platform meetings. By encouraging discussions on this issue among UN treaty bodies and other human rights mechanisms, we hope that they will be able to exchange around best practices and challenges for better protection of migrants during and following their migration journey’ explains Felix Kirchmeier.

‘At the same time, this approach will enhance the effectiveness and coherence of the UN human rights system’ he adds.

Besides UN human rights mechanisms, this paper will also be useful for victims and their relatives, human rights defenders and organizations, National Human Rights Institutions, governments, NGOs working on enforced disappearance in the context of international migration, as well as academics and experts.

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