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Convention for Enforced Disappearance Enters into Force

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Enters Into Force

December 23, 2010

Today, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (the Convention) enters into force. For the disappeared and their families, this is a historic moment, a cherished victory in the global struggle against this scourge of enforced disappearance.

The Convention is a legally-binding instrument protecting people from enforced disappearances and establishing the right of everyone not to be subjected from this crime. No circumstance whatsoever, be it a state or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may be invoked to justify enforced disappearance. The Convention provides that enforced disappearance constitutes an international crime and, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, is considered a crime against humanity.

Every provision of the Convention stems from poignant experiences of relatives of the disappeared. In 1981, the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared- Detainees launched the project to draft an international convention. Associations of families of the disappeared and international human rights organizations from various parts of the world actively took part in the drafting and influenced the Convention’s contents.

To date, the Convention has been ratified by 21 States and signed by 88. Despite the voluntary pledge of the Philippine Government before the UN Human Rights Council in 2007, the Philippines is neither among the signatories nor the States Parties. The Convention is particularly relevant to the Philippine situation, where, since the dark years of the Marcos regime, enforced disappearances remain unresolved and continue to occur. 306 cases were reported to the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) while 209 cases had been documented by Karapatan during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 3 new cases have been documented and another 1 reported to FIND under the present Aquino administration. These are not mere numbers, but they encompass the violation of multiple human rights of the disappeared, of his or her family and, ultimately, of the society as a whole.

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According to the Convention, each State Party shall codify enforced disappearance as an autonomous offense under its criminal law and punish it by appropriate penalties which take into account its extreme seriousness. However, in the Philippines, as in any other Asian country, there is no domestic law criminalizing all instances of enforced disappearance.

The Convention provides, among other things, the following:

•The relatives of disappeared have the right to know the truth on the circumstances of the enforced disappearance and the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared;

•The relatives of the disappeared and those who suffer harm because of the disappearance are also victims;

•Enforced disappearance is a continuing offense;

•No one shall be held in secret detention;

•All States Parties shall establish and maintain up-to-date official registers of persons deprived of liberty and guarantee access to basic information;

•All victims of disappearance and their relatives have the right to obtain integral reparation and prompt, fair and adequate compensation.

A Committee on Enforced Disappearance will be established by the UN to monitor the implementation of the Convention and to support families, acting as a channel of communication between them and the State, in their search for their loved ones.

The Convention is the UN’s response to a global phenomenon, which, according to the 2009 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, occurs in 100 countries of the world. 27 of which are Asian. Asia is the continent from which the highest number of cases was reported to the said Working Group.

The imperative of the Convention’s ratification by as many States as possible and its universal implementation can be gleaned, among others, from the sad reality that the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) continues to learn from its member-organizations in other Asian countries.

In Jammu and Kashmir, more than 8,000 cases of enforced disappearances have been registered over the past years and the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice presented a report, based on research conducted between 2006 and 2009, entitled “Buried Evidence,” documenting 2,700 unmarked mass graves, containing 2,943+ bodies, across 55 villages in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. In Timor Leste, the twenty-four year occupation of Indonesia resulted in untold violations of human rights, including enforced disappearance. In Indonesia, the 1965 massacre against members of the Communist Party of Indonesia, labelled as enemies of the State, resulted in the victimization of many civilians. Further, more people were victimized by enforced disappearance during and immediately after the fall of the 32 years of the Suharto dictatorship. In Nepal, the 10-year internal conflict left 10,000 disappeared. In Pakistan, especially in the war-torn area of Balochistan, innumerable cases occur each passing day. In Sri Lanka, about 60,000 cases of enforced disappearance were registered in the early 90s and under the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, these continue to occur unabated especially in the northern and eastern part of the country. In Thailand, while cases of disappearances in 1992 remain unresolved, recent cases occurred especially in the south, including that of the human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit.

In all the mentioned countries, relatives of the disappeared continue to suffer and, at the same time, to struggle to establish the truth, to obtain justice and redress and to reconstruct the historical memory of their beloved desaparecidos. This dark phenomenon of disappearances urges States to provide protection to all persons from this heinous crime by signing and ratifying the Convention.

As the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) celebrates this especially glorious day in the struggle against enforced disappearance through the entry into force of the Convention, it joins the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED) to call for more signatures and ratifications from governments of Asia and of the rest of the world.

The AFAD, being based in the Philippines, especially calls on the administration of President Benigno Aquino lll to respond to the cry of the families of the disappeared by putting a stop to the phenomenon of enforced disappearance and fulfilling the Philippines’ pledge as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to sign and ratify the Convention without further delay.

Ratify the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and Recognize the Competence of the Special Committee on Enforced Disappearances!

Enact a Domestic Law Criminalizing Enforced Disappearances!


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