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Civil institutions can help to reduce enforced disappearances, UN rights body told

Civil institutions can help to reduce enforced disappearances, UN rights body told

A United Nations Human Rights Council working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances has called on the international community to bolster civil society institutions around the world, saying they offer the best hope of deterring such abuses.

In its report to the Council, presented yesterday, the working group also warned that in post-conflict situations, many disappearances remain unsolved and the perpetrators go unpunished.

The report voiced concern over the problem of under-reporting of disappearances and also of legal restrictions placed upon some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are investigating cases by some States.

Meeting in Geneva, representatives from almost 50 governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) then discussed the report by the working group, which investigates the fates or whereabouts of those who are reported to have disappeared.

The report said that last year the working group transmitted 248 cases of disappearances to 16 governments for response or clarification. Of those, 79 allegedly occurred during 2006 in Algeria, China, Colombia, Honduras, Libya, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Thailand. Delegates from six of these countries – Algeria, Russia, Nepal, Philippines, Thailand and Colombia – responded to the report today.

Algeria’s representative Idriss Jazairy said the working group reported 31 new cases of disappearances in his country, and yet these occurred during the 1990s when Algeria was engulfed in civil war.

Saying her country was cooperating with the working group to investigate the problem, Russia’s delegate Natalia Zolotova noted that the instances of disappearances in the Caucasus region, where Chechnya is located, have declined.

The Philippines is exerting its best efforts to trace those listed as disappeared, according to that country’s representative, Noel E. Servigov, who also said that recent reports would be given priority since fresh information could be more beneficial to tracing people’s whereabouts.

Pitchayaphant Charnbhumidol of Thailand said his Government had promptly investigated every reported disappearance put before authorities, adding it also tries to ensure the safety of any relatives of the disappeared who have been subject to intimidation.

The Council also discussed the recent report of John Dugard, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.

In his report, Mr. Dugard, who serves in an unpaid and independent capacity, wrote that Israeli laws and practices discriminated against Palestinians, more than 70 per cent of whom live below the poverty line.

He also stated that the occupied Palestinian territory is the scene of massive human rights violations, with conditions deteriorating further after the kidnapping by Palestinians of an Israeli soldier last June and also after Hamas’ victory in last year’s elections, which resulted in Israel withholding the Palestinian Authority’s tax and customs revenues.

Itzhak Levanon, Israel’s representative, called the report one-sided, highly selective and extremely biased, saying there were many inaccuracies in Mr. Dugard’s account.

Mr. Levanon said that the report made no mention of Palestinian human rights violations against Israel or fellow Palestinians, and asserted that it would hinder the process of conciliatory dialogue between the two sides.

For his part, Palestinian delegate Mohammed Abu-Koash hailed Mr. Dugard’s report and said his assessment of the situation was accurate. Saying that sanctions had been imposed on the victim instead of the aggressor, the delegate urged the Council to take action against Israel.

The fourth session of the Human Rights Council will conclude on 30 March.