By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
PARIS, Feb. 6 -- Representatives from 57 countries on Tuesday signed a long-negotiated treaty prohibiting governments from holding people in secret detention. The United States declined to endorse the document, saying its text did not meet U.S. expectations.
Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the treaty was "a message to all modern-day authorities committed to the fight against terrorism" that some practices are "not acceptable."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment, except to say that the United States helped draft the treaty but that the final wording "did not meet our expectations."
The Associated Press reported that McCormack declined to comment on whether the U.S. stance was influenced by the Bush administration's policy of sending terrorism suspects to CIA-run prisons overseas, which President Bush acknowledged in September.
"Our American friends were naturally invited to this ceremony," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said after the signing here. "Unfortunately, they weren't able to join us. That won't prevent them from one day signing on in New York at U.N. headquarters, and I hope they will."
The convention defines forced disappearance as the arrest, detention or kidnapping of a person by state agents or affiliates and subsequent denials about the detention or location of the individual.
The treaty, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December, has been pushed for nearly a quarter-century by rights groups and the families of individuals who have disappeared at the hands of various governments. It also addresses the international debate over the rights of terrorism suspects.
At a separate gathering, a non-binding accord banning the use of child soldiers was signed here Tuesday by representatives of 58 countries, including African nations that have been harshly criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups for arming children. The United States did not participate, saying that it objected to some of the wording of the documents but that it remained committed to its treaty obligations on the issue.
Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, described the agreement as having "a great political value" in pressuring national armies, paramilitaries and opposition forces to stop using children as combatants.
"What this conference has shown is that there is a great deal of political commitment to ending the unlawful recruitment of children," said Rima Salah, deputy executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations' advocacy agency for children, which co-sponsored the conference with the French government. "What needs to be done now is to harness this commitment and turn it into concrete action on the ground."
U.N. and human rights groups estimate that as many as 300,000 children younger than 18 are used worldwide in armed conflicts as soldiers or servants for soldiers. They say girls in particular are often sexually abused and exploited by militaries and armed groups.
The accord calls for an immediate halt to recruitment of children, the release of those now serving in militaries or paramilitaries and the expansion of programs for reintegrating the youngsters into their communities and societies.
Among the countries signing the accord were Congo, Chad, Sudan and Uganda, all of which the United Nations has singled out on the abuse of children by armed factions and militaries. Burma and the Philippines, which the United Nations has also cited, did not take part in the conference or sign the agreement, UNICEF said.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague considers the use of children younger than 15 in armed conflicts a war crime and announced last week that Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo will be tried on charges of recruiting child soldiers as young as 10.