June 29, 2006

UN rights forum adopts ban on “disappearances”

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Council
on Thursday unanimously approved an international treaty that
would ban states from abducting perceived enemies and hiding
them in secret prisons or killing them.

The International Convention for the Protection of All
Persons from Enforced Disappearance would require states to
keep registers of detainees and tell their families the truth
about their disappearance, as well as paying compensation.

It still has to be adopted in the U.N. General Assembly,
and then individual governments would need to approve it.

Rights experts say the United States, in the spotlight over
allegations it has been transferring terrorism suspects to
secret jails in other countries, is not expected to ratify the

The Human Rights Council, a new 47-member state forum,
agreed by consensus in its first major decision to send the
pact to the General Assembly for final adoption.

Some 535 new "disappearances" were reported to the U.N.
last year, many of them in Chechnya, Colombia, and Nepal.

The treaty has been under negotiation since 1992, inspired
by disappearances and killings of government opponents during
Latin American military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

Argentine foreign minister Jorge Taiana took the floor to
say it was a "historic moment for the cause of human rights."

Officially, some 12,000 people were killed or disappeared
under Argentina's 1976-1983 Dirty War, a witch hunt of leftists
by the dictatorship. Rights groups put the number at 30,000.

Bernard Kessedjian, the French envoy who chaired
negotiations, said: "Perhaps the biggest innovation is that the
text lays down preventive measures, in particular those
relating to detention, prison registries and a ban on secret

The treaty offers a first definition of disappearance in
international law, calling it detention, abduction, or
deprivation of liberty by state agents followed by a refusal to
acknowledge deprivation and a placing of the disappeared
outside the protection of the law.

It would prohibit enforced disappearance as an
international crime even under exceptional circumstances,
including war, political instability or public emergency.

It also declares that widespread or systematic practices of
enforced disappearance constitute a crime against humanity.

The Convention's fate was seen by activists as a litmus
test of the inaugural two-week session of the Council, which
succeeds the widely-discredited U.N. Commission on Human

The United States, which has only observer status at the
forum, wanted the treaty to provide "a defense of obedience to
superior orders" in a criminal prosecution.