Iraq paves way for UN treaty on enforced disappearance to enter into force

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

24 November 2010 – The United Nations human rights chief today welcomed the approaching entry into force of a landmark new treaty to deter enforced disappearance after Iraq became the 20th State to ratify the convention, paving the way for it to become effective in the next 30 days.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance is designed to prevent enforced disappearance, punish those who perpetrate the practice and protect victims. Iraq ratified the Convention yesterday.

“An important legal gap in international human rights legislation has been filled in the fight against enforced disappearance, one of the most serious and distressing crimes on the international stage,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“This ground-breaking Convention provides a solid international framework to put an end to impunity and pursue justice, and as a result will hopefully have a significant deterrent effect.

“It should provide the friends and relatives of victims a significant boost in their efforts to find out what happened to their loved ones. The pain of not knowing, sometimes for decades, whether someone is healthy or suffering, or even dead or alive, is excruciating – almost a form of torture in itself,” Ms. Pillay said.

The Convention, which has 45 articles, outlaws enforced disappearance without exception. Article one states that: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance.”

Signatories to the Convention are prohibited from holding anyone in secret detention and are required to hold criminally responsible “any person who commits, orders, solicits or induces the commission of, attempts to commit, is an accomplice to or participates in an enforced disappearance.”

The treaty also characterizes as a crime against humanity the widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance. It also obligates States to take steps to protect complainants, witnesses, relatives of disappeared individuals, their defence counsel and investigators.

The Convention, adopted by the General Assembly on 20 December 2006, had to be ratified by 20 States before coming into force.

In addition to the 20 States – Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Honduras, Iraq, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Paraguay, Senegal, Spain and Uruguay – a further 70 States have taken the preliminary step of signing it, an expression of their intention to ratify it at some point in the future.

The implementation of the Convention will be monitored and assessed by a committee made up of 10 independent and impartial experts with recognized competence in the field of human rights who will serve in their individual capacity.


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