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Colombia - During an international seminar on enforced disappearances in Bogota the Spanish judge Garzon points out the weaknesses of the convention; no prohibition of amnesty, it allows for statutory limitations and it lacks power in the responsibility of States. Link to the news article (in Spanish)

The Manfred Novak report of 2001 gives a clear description of why the convention is needed

The Council or Europe resolution 1463 of October 2005 including the essential provisions of the convention

Gabriella Citroni and Tullio Scovazi, The struggle against anfoced disappearances and the 2007 United Nations convention, 2007 describes the 2007 Convention and its main legal issues in chapter IV. The book can be ordered at Martinus Nijhoff Publishers

The definition of enforced disappearance in article 7.2.i of the the Rome Statute

An extensive research and publication affirming the continuous nature of the crime of enforced disappearance was carried out by the Amsterdam International Law Clinic in 2002. The document is called Enforced Disappearances as Continuing Violations


Need for a convention

The reason for the convention in essence is simple. Enforced disappearances have been carried out by regimes all over the world from the Second World war until today. At this moment enforced disappearances occur in many countries in all continents. Main reason for a convention is that people need to be better protected from this crime.

Unlike other human rights violations (like torture) enforced disappearance was not protected by a universal legally binding instrument. The existing protection mechanisms were:

  • UN declaration on disappearances from 1992 
  • Inter American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons (only for American countries)
  • The Rome Statute
  • Violation of a combination of rights protected in for instance the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights

The existing legal framework contained many gaps and ambiguities and has proven to be inadequate to protect people from enforced disappearance. In order to prevent the practice of enforced disappearance there is an urgent need for a legally binding universal instrument. 

Key provisions


The Convention recognizes the right of any person not to be subjected to enforced disappearance. Its a non-derogable right which means that no circumstances may be invoked as a justification to carry out enforced disappearances. its is the first instrument to recognize this right.

The Convention provides for a universally binding definition with the following elements:

  1. A deprivation of liberty by agents of the State, 
  2. followed by refusal to acknowledge this deprivation of liberty, or
  3. by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person,
  4. which places a person outside the protection of the law.

The convention obliges the State to investigate (not necessarily criminalize) 'disappearances' carried out by non-state actors in article 3. It means that persons or groups of persons can commit a crime similar to a disappearance but without the authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State.

The widespread practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity (Art. 5). This enables for instance the involvement of the International Criminal Court. The Rome Statute itself defined enforced disappearance in broader definition with more elements (intent of the perpetrator and removal from the protection of the law for a prolonged period of time) in Article 7.2.i

INCRIMINATION (Art. 4, 6, 7, 8, 22)

Each State party is required to incriminate the provisions of the convention in its domestic criminal law. It should:

  1. Make enforced disappearance an offence under its criminal law,
  2. Hold any person involved criminally responsible,
  3. Make the offence punishable by appropriate penalties (Art. 7)
  4. Strictly limits any statute of limitations (Art. 8).

Article 6 describes who can be held criminally responsible for an enforced disappearance. its not just the person directly involved but also superiors.

Article 8 indicates that a State has to take into account the continuous nature of the crime when declaring a 'time limit' on applicability of prosecution. The limitation may only start from the moment the enforced disappearance ceases to exist.

PREVENTION (Art. 17, 21, 23)

To prevent enforced disappearances from happening the convention requires States to install stringent safeguards. These preventive measures can be of consequence for national laws, for instance regarding detention.

The Convention prohibits secret detention and gives specific rules and regulations with regard to deprivation of liberty including the maintenance of up-to-date official registers of persons deprived of liberty. For all places where people are deprived of their liberty a register like this should be available. It also requires States to impose sanctions on conduct that undermines the safeguards.

Article 21 requires persons to be released form prison in a manner permitting reliable verification that they have actually been released.

Article 24 obliges States to provide trainings to law enforcement personnel.

PROTECTION AND RIGHTS OF VICTIMS (Art. 12, 18, 19, 20, 24)

The Convention contains several provisions on protective measures after a disappearance occurred. The State should for instance enable individuals to report an enforced disappearance, protect witnesses and investigate complaints and reports of disappearances.

The convention also establishes several rights for victims. Enforced disappearances create many more victims that just the person who has been deprived of his liberty. Relatives of the disappeared are included in the definition of victim as well as any person who has suffered harm as a direct result of the enforced disappearance.

The right to information is guaranteed in article 18. Every person with a legitimate interest should have access to basic information such as the date, time and place of the deprivation of liberty and the whereabouts of the person. Restrictions of such information are only permitted when a person is under judicial control and the restriction does not lead to an enforced disappearance.

The right to know the truth is guaranteed in article 24. States should also ensure reparation and prompt and adequate compensation as well as the right to form organizations and associations trying to address the enforced disappearances. Reparation includes:

  • Restitution
  • Rehabilitation
  • Satisfaction
  • Guarantees of non repetition

Also the legal status of a disappeared person has to be dealt with by States.

CHILDREN (Art. 25)

The States are responsible for the prevention and punishment of the wrongful removal of children who are subjected to enforced disappearance or whose parents are subjected to enforced disappearance. States should search for, identify and return those children to their families.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION (Art. 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15)

International cooperation is a vital requirement to make the convention effective. Often enforced disappearances concern the involvement of more than one State.

State Parties shall cooperate in searching disappeared persons and, in the event of death, in exhuming and identifying them and returning the mortal remains.

State parties should submit suspects who are found on their territory to the competent authorities, extradite them to another state, or surrender them to an international criminal court.

They should also take care that no person is expelled, returned surrendered or extradited who may be in danger of being subjected to enforced disappearance.


The Convention establishes a 10 member independent expert Committee on Enforced Disappearances. The Committee will deal with cases of enforced disappearances that happened after the Convention came into force.

Each State party must submit a report to the Committee. The Committee will issue comments, observations and recommendations. It will also carry out country visits.

A State can recognize the specific competence of the Committee to consider communications from individuals.

Unique to the Convention is an urgent humanitarian procedure to search and find disappeared persons on request of a relative. This is similar to the task of the existing Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.

The Committee has the extraodinary power to bring "widespread and systematic" practice of enforced disappearance to teh attention of teh UN General Assembly.