Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ban Secret Detentions? No Way!

From the AP via Common Dreams:

Nearly 60 countries signed a treaty on Tuesday that bans governments from holding people in secret detention, but the United States and some of its key European allies were not among them.

The signing capped a quarter-century of efforts by families of people who have vanished at the hands of governments.


State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined comment except to say that the United States helped draft the treaty, but that the final text "did not meet our expectations."

McCormack declined comment on whether the U.S. stance was influenced by the administration's policy of sending terrorism suspects to CIA-run prisons overseas, which Bush acknowledged in September.

Many other Western nations, including Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy, also did not sign the treaty. France introduced the convention at the U.N. General Assembly in November and it was adopted in December.

Many delegates expressed hope that other nations will sign by year-end. Some European nations have expressed support for the treaty, but face constitutional hurdles or require a full Cabinet debate before signing, French and U.N. officials said.


Arbour said the United States had expressed "reservations" about parts of the text, but declined to elaborate, and she urged U.S. officials to sign and ratify it. She noted that America often backs activities of the UNHCR without formally signing on to them.


The convention defines forced disappearances as the arrest, detention, kidnapping or "any other form of deprivation of freedom" by state agents or affiliates, followed by denials or cover-ups about the detention and location of the person gone missing.

Nations that eventually ratify the text would enshrine victims' rights, and would require states to penalize any forced disappearances in their countries and enact preventative and monitoring measures.

French officials, who led the effort, counted more than 51,000 people who were disappeared by their governments in over 90 countries since 1980, Douste-Blazy said. Some 41,000 of those cases remain unsolved.

"Men and women disappear every day on every continent, for defending human rights, for just opposing their governments' policies or simply because they want justice," Douste-Blazy said. "The situation could not continue to go unpunished. It required a strong response from the international community."

Latin American states like Argentina, once plagued by disappearances, are now owning up to much of the violence that left hundreds of thousands dead or disappeared in the 1970s and 1980s. Disappearances were also a common Nazi tactic in World War II.

Argentina's first lady, lawmaker Cristina Kirchner, took part in the signing. She was in Paris in an effort to raise her profile before a potential presidential bid.


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