Submission: General Comment on Enforced Disappearances in the Context of Migration

The GDP has submitted comments to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances regarding its draft “General Comment on Enforced Disappearances in the Context of Migration.”

About the CED General Comment

Every year, thousands of migrants go missing en route to their destination country, or in the destination country itself. Among those missing are persons who have been subjected to “enforced disappearances.” According to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), disappearance can occur (a) as a result of the abduction of migrants for political or other reasons; (b) during the detention of migrants or the execution of deportation proceedings; or (c) as a possible consequence of smuggling and/or trafficking.

In view of this extremely worrying trend, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances is preparing a General Comment to provide authoritative guidance on legal obligations regarding enforced disappearances in the context of migration. As the Committee notes, “this General Comment aims to assist the States in developing and implementing national policies in terms of the migrant protection and prevention of their victimization through enforced disappearances.”

GDP Comments

Following invitation from the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the GDP has submitted feedback regarding the draft General Comment. Areas addressed by the GDP include:

  • The need for international agencies to develop better records on disappearances, including counting missing or disappeared migrants who may have first been detained. The IOM’s “Missing Migrants” project, for example, explicitly omits from its records migrants who disappear or die after being detained based on the misleading argument that detention occurs only at destinations and not while migrants are in transit, which is the explicit focus of the Missing Migrants project. However, as the GDP notes: “The fact is, detention plays an increasingly important role in the experiences of migrants during their journeys, especially as major destination countries ramp up their investments in the detention efforts of neighbouring countries in order to prevent migrants and asylum seekers from reaching their destinations. Thus, when migrants disappear after being detained in transit countries like Libya, Cambodia, Mexico, or Turkey, the failure to count those missing persons undermines accountability as well as recognition of the important connection between arrest and detention and enforced disappearances.”

  • The importance of including ad hoc and de facto border detention operations in the General Comment’s discussion of detention and disappearances. These forms of deprivation or liberty are growing in importance in many regions of the world, including in Europe, where the European Commission’s draft Instrumentalisation Regulation seeks to provide legal justifications that would enable member states to ramp up informal border “procedures” under certain conditions. Precisely because these detention situations often occur informally and without standard oversight, they increase the possibility of disappearances. The General Comment should insist that states properly recognise and account for these detention operations and that they provide the same safeguards, oversight, and regulations that are part of formal immigration detention policies.

  • The General Comment should also underscore state responsibility in cases of of disappearances involving non-state actors who work in collaboration or under contract with the state to detain migrants, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable non-citizens. Offshoring and privatising detention operations threaten efforts to ensure accountability for the treatment of migrant detainees, which is an integral tool for preventing abuses–including disappearances–of people who are deprived of liberty during their migration journeys.

Related Reading

UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances – “Consultation on the Concept Note of the General Comment No.1 on Enforced Disappearances in the Context of Migration”

M. Flynn – “Kidnapped, Trafficked, Detained? The Implications of Non-State Actor Involvement in Immigration Detention”