Philippine President Benigno Aquino [official profile] on Friday signed legislation [PIA report] that criminalizes enforced disappearances. According to the Presidential Communications Operations Office [press release], the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 criminalizes the "arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State." The law was passed by Congress in October. In a clause deemed crucial [HRW press release] by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website], those accused of violations of the law may not invoke "orders of battle-military documents that identify alleged enemies" in order to avoid prosecution under the law. In addition, the law gives subordinates the power to defy unlawful orders by superior officers commissioning enforced disappearances and holds superiors culpable for violations committed by by subordinates. Under the law, victims and kin of victims may seek compensation and restitution for violations by state agencies. Anyone convicted under the new law faces up to life in prison and may not receive amnesty. According to the Philippine Information Agency, the new law "mandates that Human Rights organizations shall participate in the crafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the law."
In March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights cited [JURIST report] enforced disappearances as one of the most heinous crimes during her opening statement [text] to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.The International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance [text] was signed [JURIST report] in 2007 by at least 57 countries, but has not been ratified by the required 20 to take effect. In August 2011 the UN called for all states to end [JURIST report] the "heinous crime" of enforced or involuntary disappearances. Enforced disappearances refers to the practice of placing people in secret detentions for weeks or months without ever being brought before a judge. Some victims of the practice say they were tortured during their detainment. According to HRW "Under [Philippine] President Ferdinand Marcos, enforced disappearances were rampant, as the military and police routinely rounded up activists and suspected communist rebels and supporters."