Landmark enforced disappearances convention to enter into force

Amnesty International today called on all states – including the UK - to commit themselves to end enforced disappearances, following news that a landmark treaty aimed at preventing the practice will come into effect. The UK has yet to sign the treaty.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Disappearances Convention) will enter into force on 23 December, after Iraq on Wednesday became the 20th country to ratify it.

The Convention aims to establish the truth about enforced disappearances, punish perpetrators and provide reparations to victims and their families.

Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said:

“This is an important step in the fight to stop enforced disappearances, which cause horrendous suffering to victims, their families and their communities.

"However, we are still a long way from banishing this widespread practice to history. Although the 20 ratifications mark a milestone for the implementation of the Convention, almost 90 per cent of the international community have yet to commit themselves to tackling enforced disappearances.”

An enforced disappearance takes place when a person is arrested, detained or abducted by a state or agents acting for the state. The authorities then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.

In the UK, Amnesty International is still campaigning for a 68-year-old British man, Ramze Shihab Ahmed, who ‘disappeared’ in Iraq in December 2009. He has now been located, after he was able to telephone his family in April 2010, but he is still detained in Iraq without charge or trial . He alleges that he has been repeatedly tortured, including being suffocated with a plastic bag, suspended by his ankles and given electric shocks to sensitive parts of his body.

Ramze went to Iraq from his home in the UK in November 2009 to try to secure the release of his son, who had been detained two months earlier. Amnesty is asking people to take action to urge his fair trial or immediate release, at www.amnesty.org.uk/ramze

The ramifications of enforced disappearances are severe. Those disappeared are often tortured and subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In many cases, they are secretly killed and their remains are hidden. Family members and those close to the person disappeared are left not knowing what has happened to their loved one, whether they are alive or dead. Entire communities can fracture under pressure as people fear being associated with those targeted.

States that ratify the Convention commit themselves to conduct investigations to locate the disappeared person, to prosecute those responsible and to ensure reparations for survivors and their families.

The entry into force of the treaty will also lead to the establishment of a new international Committee on Enforced Disappearances. This independent and impartial treaty body will monitor implementation of the Convention and it can receive complaints from or on behalf of victims when the national authorities fail to fulfil their obligations.  

However, in order for the Committee to be able to receive and consider complaints by victims or their representatives, their governments must make a declaration accepting it. Fourteen of the 20 states which have ratified the Disappearances Convention have not done this, including Iraq.
Amnesty International has campaigned for over a quarter of a century for a convention to prevent and combat enforced disappearances worldwide.

Salil Shetty said:

"In the next few years, as part of our Campaign for International Justice we will be campaigning for those remaining states to ratify the Disappearances Convention without delay and to recognise the competence of the new Committee to consider individual complaints.

"We urge all states to review their national laws to ensure that they can investigate and prosecute this horrendous crime before national courts."  

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