« The phenomenon of enforced disappearances is universal, affecting all continents. These horrific crimes not only target the ’disappeared’ persons themselves, but also their familes and whole societies, » stated Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.
The crime of enforced disappearance is one of the most serious human rights violations and can constitute a crime against humanity if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians. Whilst the need for such an international instrument providing a legal definition of this crime was widely recognised, it took decades to achieve general consensus on its content.
More than 30 years after the adoption of Resolution 33/173 by the UN General Assembly (December 1978) which for the first time referred to the issue of « Disappeared Persons », the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances now constitutes a binding instrument containing important provisions for the protection of the rights of victims.
The legal significance of the Convention is marked, since it not only provides a legal definition of the crime of enforced disappearance, but also establishes a set of obligations of States to prevent and prosecute this crime through concrete measures at the national level. The Convention recognises in particular the right to information, the right to know the truth, the right to justice and the right to reparation.
“The right to know is a fundamental right, as the phenomenon of enforced disappearance breaks the daily life of families”, underlined the former UN Special Rapporteur, Louis Joinet, during his testimony at a recent trial in Paris that ended with the conviction on 17 December of 14 Chilean high ranking officials from the Pinochet regime for the enforced disappearance of 4 Franco-Chilean citizens in the early 70s.(1)
As of today, the Convention has been signed by 87 countries and ratified by 21 (Brazil being the last country to ratify the Convention on 29 November).
The Convention puts an obligation on State parties to take measures to prosecute the perpetrators of this crime when they are present on their territories, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, irrespective of the nationality of the victims and the alleged perpetrators, as well the country where the crime was committed.
Finally, the Convention creates a Committee that will monitor implementation by State parties.
« We now urge states that have not yet ratified the Convention to do so and encourage those that are already party to the Convention to implement its provisions, including by incorporating the crime of enforced disappearance into their national legislation » concluded Souhayr Belhassen.
(1) For more information, see special file on this Chilean case on the FIDH website http://fidh.org/Trial-of-the-Pinochet-dictatorship
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