Convention against abductions comes into force

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An international accord aimed at preventing abductions -- a fate affecting tens of thousands of people throughout the world -- came into force Thursday, the United Nations said.

The International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was launched by the UN General Assembly in 2006, became law following its ratification last month by Iraq and Brazil.

This took the number of ratifications past the required 20 countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

The convention obliges the 87 signatory states to punish government officials or bodies linked to the state responsible for forced disappearances and compensate the victims.

If such abductions are generalised or systematic they become crimes against humanity.

Human rights groups welcomed the move.

"It is an important achievement in the struggle against a cause of indescribable fear and sorrow for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide," said Olivier Dubois of The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

"This convention will certainly contribute to greater protection against enforced disappearance," he added.

"States that are party to it must implement it into national law. They must put it into practice and make enforced disappearance an offence under their national criminal law."

"Enforced disappearances inflict unbearable cruelty not just on the victims, but on family members -- who often wait years or decades to learn of their fate," said Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Putting this landmark treaty into effect is immensely important, but to end this practice, every country is going to have to recognize that it may never abduct people and hide them away."

Campaigners said that tens of thousands of people in Iraq are still hoping to receive news of their relatives who have gone missing in the country since the 1980s.

In Bosnia-Hercegovina the fate of more than 10,000 people who went missing during the conflict in the early 1990s remains unknown.

HRW also pointed to Chechnya and other parts of the Russian North Caucasus, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indian Kashmir, and many countries of the Middle East.

"The Bush administration in the United States disappeared dozens of 'ghost prisoners', individuals held in secret detention centers, including in Europe," it added.

"In Latin America, where a number of countries are parties to the convention, thousands of families still await information on the fate of loved ones who have disappeared and justice for the perpetrators."

© 2010 AFP

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