PARIS – Nearly 60 countries signed a treaty Tuesday that bans governments from holding people in secret detention, but the United States and some of its key European allies were not among them.
The signing capped a quarter-century of efforts by families of people who have vanished at the hands of governments.
“Our American friends were naturally invited to this ceremony; unfortunately, they weren’t able to join us,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters after 57 nations signed the treaty at his ministry in Paris.
“That won’t prevent them from one day signing on in New York at U.N. headquarters – and I hope they will.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined comment except to say that the United States helped draft the treaty, but the final text “did not meet our expectations.”
McCormack declined comment on whether the U.S. stance was influenced by the administration’s policy of sending terrorism suspects to CIA-run prisons overseas, which Bush acknowledged in September.
Many other Western nations, including Germany, Spain, Britain and Italy, also did not sign the treaty. France introduced the convention at the U.N. General Assembly in November, and it was adopted in December.
Many delegates expressed hope that other nations will sign by the end of the year.
The treaty was officially opened for signature at Tuesday’s ceremony in Paris. It will enter into force after 20 countries ratify it, usually by a parliamentary vote.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called the treaty an important step both in preventing injustices common years ago and barring newer abuses that often fall through regulatory loopholes.
Arbour said the United States had expressed “reservations” about parts of the text, but declined to elaborate, and she urged U.S. officials to sign and ratify it. She noted that America often backs activities of the UNHCR without formally signing on to them.
She called the treaty “a message to all modern-day authorities committed to the fight against terrorism” that some past tactics are now “not acceptable, in a very explicit way.”
The convention defines forced disappearances as the arrest, detention, kidnapping or “any other form of deprivation of freedom” by state agents or affiliates, followed by denials or cover-ups about the detention and location of the person gone missing.