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Why the Prohibition of Enforced Disappearance Has Attained Jus Cogens Status in International Law

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This article examines the question whether jus cogens includes the prohibition of enforced disappearances, and why this is important. It surveys the meaning, context, development, status and position of jus cogens as well as enforced disappearance in international law, including their relationship to each other. It surveys the status of enforced disappearance in international law in general, as well as in international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. The article scans the historical developments of international law, including developments over the last few decades, to indicate that the prohibition against enforced disappearance has attained jus cogens status. The legal framework is examined, including the jurisprudence that has emanated from a variety of sources. Specific treaties that deal with enforced disappearance are reviewed including the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICED). What jus cogens is, what the controversies are that surround it, the different ways that it is understood within different schools of thought, and how these issues impact on whether the prohibition of enforced disappearance has attained jus cogens status are studied. The historical developments around enforced disappearances are examined in some detail to determine what its status is, particularly in relation to state practice, so as to determine whether it is jus cogens.

Affiliations: 1: Extraordinary Professor of Law, University of South Africa; Member, Chair-Rapporteur (2009–2012), UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances


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