Background Briefing

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Russia’s Efforts to Block the Draft Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances

In 2001 the U.N. Commission on Human Rights established an intersessional open-ended working group to elaborate a draft legally binding instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearances. This was the culmination of a process started by the international community as long ago as the late 1980s, in an effort to find the legal means to help eradicate the scourge of “disappearances” that had ravaged societies in all regions of the world. Since then the Working Group has been holding two sessions per year and making substantial progress towards the completion of this treaty. The current text contains important protections as well as innovative mechanisms for the prevention of “disappearances”.

While initially mildly supportive of the initiative, Russia has become increasingly hostile to the idea of an international treaty aimed at preventing enforced disappearances. During the last session of the Working Group, Russia insisted that the definition of “disappearances” should include private actors as perpetrators on the same footing as governments. The Russian proposal would represent a fundamental departure from the principles of international human rights law, which imposes certain legal obligations on states to ensure that the rights of individuals are protected and prohibits states from engaging in activities that would violate those rights. The particular horror of “disappearances” is that they are a mechanism used by state agents to bypass their own legal institutions and obligations when they find these obligations inconvenient.

The terrifying abuses committed by the Chechen rebels deserve the most energetic condemnation, but it is clear from this report that the responsibility for enforced disappearances in Chechnya lies mainly with the Russian government. Attempts to disguise such crimes as rebel abuses are reprehensible; parallel efforts to distort the measures aimed at providing legal protection and remedy for such crimes further undermines both the moral and legal authority of the government.

Unfortunately a number of proposals aimed at compromise, and at accommodating Russia's concerns, have led nowhere. Beyond this specific issue Russia has not engaged in substantive debate on the provisions of the draft treaty. At the same time it has become one of the major obstacles to the completion of the treaty through the systematic introduction of procedural issues aimed at delaying and derailing the debate.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>March 2005