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WORKING GROUP ON ENFORCED OR INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCES ADOPTS GENERAL COMMENT ON AMNESTY LAWS AND IMPUNITY

1 December 2005

In response to developments in a number of countries where amnesty laws or similar measures are being adopted or considered, the WGEID issued a statement today calling upon all States to avoid creating impunity for the crime of disappearance.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, during its 77th session, adopted a General Comment on article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (hereinafter the “Declaration”).

Article 18 (1) of the Declaration reads as follows: Persons who have or are alleged to have committed offences referred to in article 4, paragraph 1, above, shall not benefit from any special amnesty law or similar measures that might have the effect of exempting them from any criminal proceedings or sanction.

Yet, articles 4 (2) and 18 (2) of the Declaration refer to “mitigating benefits” and the granting of pardon to alleged perpetrators of disappearances, which could seem to lead to impunity.

To encourage a consistent interpretation of the provisions of the Declaration, the Working Group has issued the General Comment. It clearly states what kind of amnesty laws are contrary to the Declaration. The General Comment also establishes limits on laws and processes that are designed to produce genuine and sustainable peace. The Working Group specifies the conditions under which pardons and mitigating benefits to alleged perpetrators of disappearances are permissible. In any peace and reconciliation scheme the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparation must be maintained.

The Working Group calls upon all States where amnesties or similar measures have been approved, implemented or are being considered to take account of the General Comment. All States should align their domestic legislation and practice to the guidelines provided in the General Comment, to preclude impunity for the crime of disappearance.

The WGEID was established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist the relatives of disappeared persons in ascertaining their fate and whereabouts and to act as a channel for communication between the families and governments concerned. The WGEID is composed of five independent experts: Stephen J. Toope (Chairperson-Rapporteur), J. 'Bayo Adekanye (Vice-Chairperson), Saied Rajaie Khorasani, Darko Göttlicher, and Santiago Corcuera.

For more information on the WGEID, and for the full text of the General Comment, please refer to this web site: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/disappear/index.htm