The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance enters into force on December 23, marking the end of a long struggle to get enough number of countries to ratify the convention to make it a legal instrument.

Almost four years after its adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Convention eventually reached the 20th ratification, which was necessary for it to come into effect. According to International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances, (http://www.icaed.org), Iraq was the 20th country that ratified this international treaty.

As many as 88 countries have signed the convention but only 21 have ratified it. Seven countries recognise competence of the Committee to receive individual and interstate complaints. Japan only accepted interstate complaints.

India and Maldives signed the convention on February 6, 2007, says the website. No other country from the region has signed, acceded or ratified it.

“This is an historical date,” said Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, chair of the Philippines-based Asian Federation Against Disappearances (AFAD) and focal person of the ICAED, which gathers associations of families of the disappeared together with human rights NGOs. “The Convention represents by itself an achievement of associations of relatives of disappeared people and NGOs from all over the world. It…fills an immense and intolerable gap: the lack of an international treaty to prevent and suppress enforced disappearance…People are disappearing in many parts of the world. In such light, the Convention will be an effective tool for the international community in its struggle against this scourge,” she said in a statement.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission described the day as a “historic moment” for the disappeared and their families, and “a cherished victory in the global struggle against this scourge of enforced disappearance.” 

The Convention is a legally-binding instrument protecting people from enforced disappearances. No circumstance whatsoever, be it a state or threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency may be invoked to justify enforced disappearance. The Convention provides that enforced disappearance constitutes an international crime and, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, is considered a crime against humanity. 

Every provision of the Convention stems from poignant experiences of relatives of the disappeared. In 1981, the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees launched the project to draft an international convention. Associations of families of the disappeared and international human rights organisations from various parts of the world actively took part in the drafting and influenced the Convention's contents. 

According to the Convention, each State Party shall codify enforced disappearance as an autonomous offense under its criminal law and punish it by appropriate penalties which take into account its extreme seriousness. A Committee on Enforced Disappearance will be established by the U.N. to monitor the implementation of the Convention and to support families, acting as a channel of communication between them and the state, in their search for their loved ones. The Convention is the U.N.'s response to a global phenomenon, which, according to the 2009 report of the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, occurs in 100 countries of the world; 27 of which are Asian.

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