Friday, February 09, 2007

Looking the other way on disappearance

In December last year, the United Nations General Assembly approved the text for a new global human rights treaty, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention is modelled closely on the Convention Against Torture, and bans "enforced disappearance", which it defines as

the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

The systematic use of disappearance is recognised by the International Criminal Court and in the Convention as a crime against humanity.

Disappearance is a feature of authoritarian and abusve regimes, and was rife in South America under the various military dictatorships of the 70's and 80's. More recently, the United States has practiced the disappearance of terrorist suspects, initially to Guantanamo, and then to a secret network of prisons scattered across the globe. The Convention would outlaw that practice, and require its parties to prosecute those responsible for it, cooperate in extraditing those suspected of it, and ensure that its victims receive compensation (just as the CAT does for torture). So its perhaps not surprising that when it opened for signature in Paris on Tuesday, the US refused to sign, saying that the text "did not meet our expectations". More surprising was the refusal of a host of Western European nations which usually take a strong line in support of human rights to sign either - the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands all refused. I'm sure its just a coincidence that each and every one of them is closely tied to the United States, and have allowed the US torture plane to use their airspace for rendition flights...

And New Zealand? A look at the list of initial signatories shows that we didn't sign either. It will be interesting to hear the government's excuse for this shameful inaction, but the real reason is no doubt the same as the UK's: a cowardly desire to avoid offending the United States, even when it commits human rights abuses of the kind more normally seen in shitty third-world despotisms.

It would be nice if once, just once, we stood up for our principles rather than appeasing human rights abusers. But that seems to be too much to ask of the present government. They've remained silent on Guantanamo, and it looks as if they are happy to look the other way on disappearance as well.

[Hat tip: European Tribune]


Say what you like about the US not signing something, but when that many western nations refuse, there's something wrong with the treaty.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/09/2007 12:00:00 PM

ScrubOne: then you'd expect them to say as such. They haven't - there's nothing on Google from the guilty parties justifying their refusal by pointing to portions of the Convention text they regard as unworkable or undesirable.

It is also worth noting that the Convention text was adopted by consensus, rather than majority - which means not a single country in the General Assembly raised their voices against it. If there's "something wrong", then shouldn't our governments tell us what it is, so we may assess their judgement and hold them electorally accountable for it?

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/09/2007 12:43:00 PM

I agree, they should be open and honest about what's wrong with the treaty. Clearly they are not.

Like I say, there's something up here.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/12/2007 08:39:00 PM

Just to speculate, the Convention would require parties to criminalise disappearance and detain for extradition or prosecute all those suspected of involvement in disappearance after it comes into force. This includes civilians who order or establish policies of disappearance. The US's policy of rendition and torture and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists in "black sites" clearly falls within the definition of disappearance. And unlike the ICC, there is no out for a suspect being a citizen of a non-party.

The potential for tension with the US here is obvious. And it is telling that major US allies involved in the war on terror have refused to sign. Which simply shows that their support for human rights is not universal, and that they are hypocrites. Sadly, our government seems to fall into that category as well.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/12/2007 08:59:00 PM