Background - On December 20th 2006 the text for the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances was adopted by the UN General Assembly. The adoption had been long awaited for by the family members of disappeared and concerned human rights organisations that had persistently been working and campaigning for such a legal tool for over 20 years.
The need for this Convention in essence is very simple. Enforced disappearances have been carried out by regimes all over the world from the World War II until today. People need to be better protected from this crime. The existing legal protection mechanisms were simply not enough; they contained a lot of gaps and ambiguities, resulting in inadequate prevention and protection.
Key provisions - The Convention recognizes the right of all persons not to be subjected to enforced disappearance. It is the first instrument to recognize this right. The Convention provides a universally binding definition with the following elements:
1. A deprivation of liberty by the agents of State,
2. followed by refusal to acknowledge this deprivation of liberty,or
3. by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person,
4. which places a person outside the protection of law.
The Convention obliges States to to investigate "disappearances" carried out by non-state actors. It can also be held responsible for a "disappearance". The Convention also requires States to install stringent safeguards for prevention, and contains several provisions on protective measures after a disappearance has occurred. Relatives of the disappeared are included in the definition of victim, thus States should guarantee the right to information of every person with a legitimate interest. According to the Convention, States should also ensure reparation and prompt and adequate compensation.
Further, the Convention clearly spells out the responsibility to co-operate internationally, since often enforced disappearance concerns the involvement of more than one state. Additionally, the Convention establishes a 10 member independent expert Committee on enforced disappearances, that will deal with cases of enforced disappearance after the Convention has come in to force.
Convention now! - Albania was the first country to deposit its ratification of the Convention on November 8 in 2007. It was followed by Argentina, Honduras and Mexico. However, for the Convention to realise its full power and to enter into legal force, more stated have to ratify it. Only then will it function as a robust tool against enforced disappearances. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that States are constantly reminded and urged about the importance of this Convention.