A binding text on enforced disappearance: how it came about
A major gap in international law has just been filled. On 20 December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted an International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The record time of three years it took to draft the Convention does not mean that the quality of the text has suffered, even though it may not be entirely satisfactory.
The idea of a binding and effective treaty goes back 25 years. The Nobel Peace Prize winner, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, expressed his concern about the serious problem of the disappeared in Argentina and a colloquium held in Paris in 1981 urged the adoption of a specific convention on enforced disappearance.
In 1992, a Declaration – non-binding – on the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
In 2003, in view of the obvious gaps in international law, the UN Human Rights Commission set up an intergovernmental working group to draft a convention. Chaired by France’s ambassador Bernard Kessedjian, in 2005 the group finalised and adopted by consensus a definitive draft legal instrument against enforced disappearances, a real tour de force in the international context.
FIACAT, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the FIDH made technical comments within this "open-ended working group", and the active presence during the drafting of the associations of the families of the disappeared such as the Fedefam for Latin America or the Afad for South-East Asia had an important influence on the final result.
Adopted unanimously following the work of a pressure group of six countries, including France, the draft Convention was placed on the agenda for the first session of the brand new Human Rights Council (which replaced the Commission on Human Rights), and adopted by the States by consensus in June 2006.
In November 2006, the draft was again approved unanimously when presented to the Third Commission of the General Assembly.
At the 61st General Assembly of the United Nations, several countries, including France and Argentina, organised a major demonstration to present and promote the Convention. The result was that 103 countries sponsored the Convention, which was adopted unanimously on 20 December 2006.
This text fills a gap in international law. Enforced disappearance is defined and banned in both peacetime and war, there is specific mention of the continuous nature of the offence, and it is thus imprescriptible as long as the fate of the person concerned has not been clarified.
On 6 February 2007, the Convention was signed in Paris by the representatives of 57 States. It came into force on December 23th 2010 after the 20th ratification.