20th Jan 2021


'Enforced disappearances' pact reaches 10-year milestone

  • The UN headquarters in New York. Having only 13 EU countries in the ratification list is regrettable (Photo: un.or)

Wednesday (23 December), sees the newest among the core international human rights instruments, turns 10-years old.

On 23 December 2010, the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance entered into force, representing a historic step in the fight against enforced disappearance and a beacon of hope to many who have despaired for the fate of their loved ones.

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During 2020, with the most challenging health crisis of our generation, the protection of public health has become an overriding priority.

Under such circumstances, it is even more challenging to stand up for human rights, but as the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has said: "human rights cannot be an afterthought in the times of crises".

Unfortunately, enforced disappearances are continuing to occur around the world and there is an additional risk of states using the pandemic and associated states of emergency as cover for enforced disappearances.

The current circumstances are particularly concerning in relation to recent disappearances in which the immediate intervention of state authorities is required to search for the disappeared person.

Enforced disappearance has been frequently projected as a strategy to spread terror in the society.

Last century the phenomenon has been seen connected to Latin America military dictatorships, where it was used as an organised method in order to exterminate political opponents.

The tragic history of enforced disappearance and its legacy in the region, has created the perception that the phenomenon has simply a regional dimension and it belongs to the past.

The experience at the UN guides us to confirm that these patterns do not match with the sad reality across the globe. The practice of enforced disappearance is not belonging to the past, it has not decreased and no region can claim to be immune from this heinous crime.

As the root causes of the phenomenon have not completely changed, we see the phenomenon reappeared in the context of national security, the fight against terrorism, combating drug trafficking or organised crime, as well as in the context of migration.

This concerns all states and all continents.

Europe has not been spared, thousands of persons have been subject of enforced disappearances and are still missing due to repressive regimes and past or ongoing conflicts.

It would be an error for the old democracies to consider that enforced disappearances take place only under "dictatorship". Citizens of old democracies can become victims of enforced disappearance in third countries, and persons under their domestic jurisdiction can become victims, with or without the complicity of state agents.

The invisibility of the victims of enforced disappearance must not lead to silence on the suffering of the victims and their loved ones.

All victims have the right to know the truth, which has an individual and collective dimension.

Society at large is entitled to know about the perpetration of serious human rights violations.

States must investigate cases of enforced disappearances, establish the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons, identity and prosecute those responsible and give redress to the victims.

Since it entered into force, the Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances has filled an important legal void in the international system by providing a binding legal instrument to fight enforced disappearances.

During these ten years as advancement in the implementation of the convention can be mentioned, it is true that some challenges continue to persist.

One of the most important is linked with the universal ratification of the convention.

As of today, there are 63 states parties and 98 signatories to the convention. It is a fact that the pace of ratifications remains slow and the point where the convention can show its full potential has not been reached.

Just 13 EU signatories

Having only 13 EU countries in the ratification list is regrettable.

Today, on the 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the convention, it is time to raise awareness on the issue of enforced disappearance and to appeal to European countries to live up to their responsibilities, to lead by example, to recognise the contemporary value of the goals and objectives of the convention and to ratify it without delay.

There is no valid excuse for not ratifying the convention, especially negligence or underestimation cannot be either a justification.

Securing a world free of enforced disappearance will be a difficult mission because of the complexity and the political nature of this crime, but there is no other option, even a single case of enforced disappearance should not be accepted.

The letter and the spirit of the convention is clear, no reason or circumstance can be invoked or justify enforced disappearance, it is unacceptable today as it was decades ago when it first came to the attention of international community.

Author bio

Dr Suela Janina is the ambassador of Albania to the EU and professor Emmanuel Decaux is president of the OSCE Court of Arbitration and Conciliation. Both authors have been chairs of the Committee on Enforced Disappearances, the UN treaty body monitoring the implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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