President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia attends a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos on January 27, 2011.

© 2011 Reuters

(New York) - President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia should urge Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, Human Rights Watch said today. Wen is scheduled to visit Jakarta between April 27 and 30, 2011.

Indonesia signed the convention in September 2010 but has not yet ratified it. Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for Indonesia to ratify the convention as soon as possible.

"In signing the Convention against Enforced Disappearance, the Indonesian government indicated not only a willingness to grapple with serious past abuses, but also to support international human rights mechanisms," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "President Yudhoyono can show he's serious about both goals by ratifying the convention and urging a powerful government to follow Indonesia's experience and end this abuse."

The convention codifies the offense of enforced disappearance, in which an individual is deprived of liberty by or with the acquiescence of the state, and officials refuse to provide information regarding the victim's detention, whereabouts, or fate. The treaty, which has been signed by almost 90 nations, requires governments to investigate alleged disappearances effectively, prosecute those responsible, and provide a proper remedy for the victims, including the relatives of disappeared people. Where enforced disappearance is widespread or systematic, it is internationally recognized as a crime against humanity.

One of the most disturbing developments in the Chinese government's recent crackdown on human rights is the use of enforced disappearance. Human Rights Watch has documented at least 18 enforced disappearances of lawyers, civil society activists, bloggers, and other human rights defenders in China since February 16, 2011. Among those disappeared in China is Gao Zhisheng, a human rights lawyer who has been missing for most of the past two years. He briefly re-appeared in April 2010, only to vanish again. Prior to his disappearance, he gave several detailed accounts of torture at the hands of the police. Human Rights Watch has also documented the use of enforced disappearances in the wake of the March 2008 unrest in Tibetan areas and of the July 2009 protests in Xinjiang.

Indonesia's commitment in signing the convention is all the more important as the Indonesian government has yet to resolve a number of enforced disappearances at home, Human Rights Watch said. At the end of former President Suharto's rule in 1997 and 1998, 23 student activists were suspected of having been disappeared by Indonesian security forces. Nine were later released alive, one was found dead, and 13 have never been found.

In 1999 a military court convicted 11 military personnel of kidnapping the nine activists who were later found alive, but the court did not at that time examine the issue of enforced disappearances in the cases of the other 13 students. Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission issued recommendations on these cases, including directing the attorney general to investigate the student disappearances. Those were adopted by Indonesia's House of Representatives in September 2009 but have not yet been acted upon by  Yudhoyono.

"The convention is meant to protect ‘all persons' from enforced disappearance, so there is no reason Indonesian leaders can't raise the issue with Premier Wen," Richardson said. "Indonesia reaffirms its commitment to the Convention against Enforced Disappearance by urging China to sign on."