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UN members sign treaty on ‘forced disappearances’

FRANCE: Some 60 UN member states signed a convention against so-called forced disappearances, the state kidnap and secret detention of political opponents.

Championed jointly by France and Argentina — where thousands of people vanished under the 1976-1983 military dictatorship — the convention is the fruit of 25 years of international negotiations.

It was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December, and needs the signature of 20 states in order to come into force.

In 1992, the United Nations adopted a declaration condemning forced disappearances, which are also classed as a crime against humanity under the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But the UN’s International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Forced Disappearance goes one step further, by giving states binding obligations towards both offenders and victims.

Signatory states will be obliged to investigate and prosecute any cases of illegal detention or sequestration, carried out by civil servants of groups linked to the state.

The treaty outlaws secret places of detention or trial, and establishes the right to truth and compensation for the victims and their families.

“This text fills a legal vacuum by making it a crime, in times of peace or war, for a state to carry out forced disappearances, meaning for it to kidnap a person, directly or indirectly, without that person’s relative ever being informed,” said French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.

“It is a considerable step forwards. This is the first complete and specific international text on forced disappearances,” said Patrick Baudouin, honorary chairman of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights.

Once it comes into force, a committee of 10 experts, named for a four-year period, will oversee the treaty’s application in all signatory states.

Earlier fifty-eight countries agreed for the first time to take steps to prevent children from being recruited as soldiers in conflicts, French officials said.

“For the first time countries are solemnly committing to apply and respect these principles to combat the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts,” a foreign ministry official said at the end of a two-day conference in Paris.

Among signatories to the Paris Principles are 10 of the 12 countries where the United Nations says there are child soldiers, including Sudan, Chad, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The other two — Myanmar and the Philippines — did not take part in the conference, which also brought together donor countries, aid agencies and the UN children’s organisation UNICEF. The US was not present.

The UN estimates there to be some 250,000 child soldiers in the world, mainly in Africa and Asia.

Under the Paris principles, which have no juridical status, countries promise to “fight against impunity, and investigate and prosecute in an effective manner persons who illegally recruit children of under 18 years in armned groups or forces.”

“Peace agreements or other arrangements aimed at ending hostilities should not include amnesties for those who commit crimes against international law, notably those carried out against children,” the text reads.

Paris, Wednesday, AFP

 

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