Implementation of the Convention against Enforced Disappearance in Germany
The enforced disappearance of persons violates a number of fundamental human rights and often serves to cover-up further rights violations. In Latin America thousands of oppositionists disappeared during the 1970’s and 80’s. Many victims subsequently faced torture and murder; in other cases the fate of the disappeared remains unknown. Similar reports of disappearances are currently emerging from places such as Sri Lanka and the Northern Caucasus. In cases of enforced disappearance, the perpetrators include not only those who kidnap and detain the victim, but also those who withhold information from relatives relating to the victim’s whereabouts. In an effort to address the multiplicity of fundamental human rights violations involved, the United Nations drew up the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was ratified by Germany on 24 September 2009.
By ratifying the Convention, the German state placed itself under an obligation to criminalize enforced disappearance. Previously, the lack of relevant criminal legislation meant that prosecutions could not be carried out in Germany in relation to cases such as the enforced disappearances during the Argentine military dictatorship. In the case of the abduction of Khaled El-Masri as part of the CIA’s ‘extraordinary renditions’, the lack of provisions in German law on enforced disappearance meant that the criminal investigation could not be extended to include further perpetrators, such as officials who knew about El-Masri’s whereabouts but withheld this knowledge from his relatives. Despite these examples, the German government maintains that the introduction of a separate criminal provision on enforced disappearance is not necessary, claiming that the crime is already adequately covered by existing criminal laws.
ECCHR, together with Amnesty International, is campaigning against the German government’s position. We are working to secure the introduction of a stand-alone crime of enforced disappearance and to close existing gaps in the law. In September 2012, talks were held with the Ministry of Justice and a position paper (see below) was subsequently sent to the German parliament’s legal affairs and human rights committees. The paper sets out the gaps in the existing German criminal law. ECCHR and Amnesty International recently submitted a report (see below) to the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances relating to the existing legal loopholes and the inadequate implementation of the Convention. In March 2014 the Committee will for the first time examine Germany’s implementation of the Convention. We are calling on the legislature to take action in the new parliamentary session to fully implement the Convention against Enforced Disappearance and introduce a stand-alone criminal provision on enforced disappearance into German criminal law.