U.N. condemns disappearances: the ICJ praises landmark draft

by | Mar 2, 1992 | News

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights meeting in Geneva adopted a draft declaration against forced “disappearances” on Friday, calling on states to take all possible measures to prevent and punish the practice.

The draft, which now goes to the General Assembly for final approval, states that the systematic practice of disappearances is “of the nature of a crime against humanity” and authorizes any country in whose jurisdiction an alleged offender is found to bring that person to justice.

The ICJ, one of the leading proponents of the draft, praised the step as a “landmark” in the fight against the “horrible crime” of disappearances. The ICJ pointed out that disappearances have spread from Latin America to become a world-wide phenomenon. Topping the list in 1991 was Sri Lanka, with up to 12,000 outstanding cases.

Among other key points in the draft: disappearances are absolutely prohibited at all times; detainees shall be held in officially recognized places of detention; relatives may always go to court to locate detainees; states shall thoroughly investigate complaints of alleged disappearances and protect relatives and witnesses who complain; and, no special amnesty laws should exonerate perpetrators.

According to Reed Brody, ICJ Executive-Secretary, “Approval of this draft declaration by the General Assembly would be a milestone in the fight against this horrible crime. While disappearances violate practically all basic human rights – such as the right to liberty and security of person, the right to be free from torture, the right to legal remedies, and often the right to life – there is no international human rights instrument which specifically outlaws the practice of disappearances. Equally important, no instrument sets forth the mechanisms which states should set in place to prevent further disappearances from occurring.”

The ICJ played a key role in the draft’s elaboration and promotion, preparing early drafts and subsequently organising an international meeting of experts to examine the declaration. After the draft’s adoption, Brody paid homage to the relatives of the disappeared, “who have worked for over a decade to achieve this kind of a declaration and whose labours are now near fruition.”

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