Saturday, May 5, 2007

Enforcement through specificity?

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the General Assembly last December and opened for signature in February, may represent the future of international human rights law – enforcement through specificity. The constitutive elements of enforced disappearance – arrest and detention by government agents combined with concealment of the person’s whereabouts – violate several provisions of the ICCPR. Moreover, enforced disappearance has already been labeled a crime against humanity (where widespread and systematic) under the ICC statute. The enforced disappearance treaty makes the interesting move of labelling and targeting a certain pattern of human rights violations, thus creating very specific norms that might be used by advocates to overcome the enforcement problems faced by more general human rights treaties. In addition, the Convention’s enforcement committee has the ability to hear urgent claims, to undertake field investigations, and to bring widespread and systematic enforced disappearance to the attention of the General Assembly. Having struggled to find specific meaning in the very general provisions of the ICCPR, this strikes me as a promising way forward for the international human rights movement – more specificity, combined with creative enforcement mechanisms. But of course, the more specific and enforceable the treaties get, the harder it may be to achieve the near-universal ratification of more vaguely-worded treaties like the ICCPR. The enforced disappearance treaty awaits 20 ratifications to take effect; as of last count, it had 57 signatories – with the notable exception of the United States as well as nations traditionally more friendly to international law such as Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

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