Subject: Ratifying Convention on Disappearances

via Joyo

The Jakarta Post

Monday, January 11, 2010

Ratifying Convention on Disappearances

Mugiyanto, Jakarta

At the end of its 2004-2009 term, the House of Representatives (DPR) left an exemplary legacy in the field of human rights. On Sept. 28, 2009, it surprisingly issued a set of comprehensive recommendations to the government on the disappearances of pro-democracy activists in 1997-1998.

The recommendations consist of four points that cover the areas of justice, truth, reparations and a guarantee of non-repetition, in which they reflect the victims' rights.

Of the four recommendations, two are addressed directly to the President, urging the President to establish an ad hoc human rights court and to search for the 13 people still missing.

The other two are addressed to the government to provide compensation and rehabilitation to the victims, and to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances for the purpose of preventing cases of enforced disappearances happening again in the future.

The four recommendations were issued by the House through its plenary session as a result of the work of the parliamentary special committee on the report by the National Human Rights Commission on the disappearance cases in 1997-1998.

The House was mandated by Article 43 of the 2000 law on the Human Rights Court. The committee had been working on it for two years, since it was established in February 2008.

This article, however, wants to highlight the recommendation to the government to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearance, which indicates Indonesia's intention to comply with the development of the international human rights treaty.

Civil society organizations have repeatedly urged the government to ratify the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.

Back in March 2007, three months after the adoption of the convention by the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the ratification of the convention was promised by the then justice and human rights minister Hamid Awaluddin in a high-level speech during the first sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

Once it ratifies the convention, Indonesia is legally bound to comply with its provisions. One of the important forms of compliance is the inclusion of the act of disappearance as a crime in domestic legislation (currently, it falls under abduction, kidnapping, deprivation of liberty). Others are measures on the obligation of the state to hold the perpetrators accountable and take preventative measures.

As stipulated in Article 39 of the convention, it will come into force on the thirtieth day after the date of deposit of the twentieth ratification with the secretary-general of the United Nations.

As of today, the convention has been signed by 81 governments and ratified by 18 states. Of those 18 ratifying states, eight states are from Latin America, four states from Europe, four states from Africa and only two states from Asia. The two Asian states that have ratified the convention are Japan and Kazakhstan.

The composition of the ratifying states has not yet reflected the purpose of the convention, which is to put an end of the global phenomenon of disappearances. The fact that there are eight Latin American states and only two Asian states seem to imply that the convention is more relevant to Latin American states. The fact, however, is that it is needed more by Asian countries as disappearances are still ongoing phenomena in the region.

The report of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in the last three years indicated that Asian regions submitted the highest number of cases of enforced disappearances as compared to other regions. Of the countries in the region, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Iraq, India, China, and the Philippines are those among the contributors.

It is because of this situation that an organization like the Asian Federations against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) in cooperation with the Latin American Federation of Association of Families of Disappeared Detainees (FEDEFAM) has been conducting a series of lobbying and campaign activities in Indonesia and other countries in the region in order that more Asian states ratify the convention.

Worth mentioning here is that Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Thailand, the Philippines and Nepal are supportive and in the process of studying eventual ratification of the convention.

In its final report entitled Ad Memoriam Per Spem which means "from Memory to Hope" released in 2008, the joint Commission for Truth and Friendship (CTF) of Timor-Leste and Indonesia produced one specific recommendation that related to disappearances.

The recommendation is for both governments to establish the Commission on Disappeared Persons. The said commission is tasked to locate the missing persons who disappeared in Timor-Leste during the conflict. Now that both governments are preparing to follow up on the said recommendation, immediate ratification of the convention will provide several benefits, some of them are:

First, the criticism by the international community that the Commission for Truth and Friendship is denying justice and accountability will be less profound than before. This is because it will base its recommendations on the international treaty directly related to the matter.

Second, the said Commission on Disappeared Persons, or whatever name both governments will give to the new follow-up institution, will fulfill and be compatible with international standards.

This will prevent the possibility of receiving international criticism later for not complying with existing standards and according to the principles of organizations working on the issues of disappearances and missing persons.

Third, being the state parties to the convention, both governments will obtain technical assistance from others. This includes, among others, in searching for, locating and releasing disappeared persons and, in the event of death, in exhuming and identifying them and returning their remains (Article 15 of the convention).

Fourth, ratifying the convention means laying the foundations for the ongoing institutional reforms that both governments are doing to prevent the same crimes happening again in the future.

The writer is the chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared (IKOHI).

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