Saturday, August 30, 2008

Day of the Disappeared

Today, August 30, is the International Day of the Disappeared, created to draw attention to the victims of forced disappearance. Forced disappearance doesn't happen in New Zealand, but it happens around the world - in the Philippines, in Pakistan, in Belarus and in Iraq. In those countries, people are abducted at gunpoint by the government or terrorist groups, held incommunicado, tortured, and murdered, and their families are left with no clue as to their ultimate fate. As the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances [PDF] points out,

Enforced disappearance challenges the very concept of human rights: it amounts to the denial of the right of all persons to exist. Enforced disappearance turns a human being into a non-being. It is the ultimate corruption, the abuse of power that allows the perpetrators, while committing abominable crimes, to reduce law and order to something insignificant.
This is a serious human rights abuse, and like torture, one that needs to be stamped out.

A key goal of the Day of the Disappeared this year is to help do that by highlighting the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and encourage states to sign it. The Convention outlaws forced disappearance, and requires its parties to cooperate in extraditing or prosecuting its perpetrators. Like the Convention Against Torture, it is aimed at strengthening international law, ensuring that human rights abusers will face justice wherever they flee, and preventing backsliding by signatory nations. So far, 73 countries have signed, and 4 have ratified. New Zealand is not one of them. This is a shameful position, and one totally at odds with our normal support for human rights and international law.

This is not an issue we can do nothing on. Our government should sign and ratify the Convention as soon as possible. And on Tuesday, I'll be presenting a petition to Parliament urging the government to do exactly that. It's small, but it should show them that at least some people here give a damn. And hopefully it will get them to stop, think, and decide to support human rights after all.