Since time immemorial, people have been struggling for their rights and the rights of their family members of fellow citizens. In the modern era, those fighting for the rights of others are called human rights defenders. It has never been easy to struggle for human rights in the discourse of Member States of the UN. Human rights defenders have always been the priority of States to make efforts to protect these voices of dissent or the voices for human rights. Long after the evolution of International Humanitarian Law, the framework for the protection of human rights defenders found resonance in the discourse of Member States of the UN, When in 1984 the UN began the elaboration of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Unlike in some countries where the number of cases of enforced disappearances and other forms of human rights violations is decreasing, Asian states are witnessing an upsurge in new cases. It is quite unfortunate that we do not have many examples of ways to solve this problem in Asia, which the governments can follow to end the vicious cycle of impunity.
In the Philippines, former president Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law had ended but the phenomenon of enforced disappearance has not. Suharto’s dictatorship in Indonesia had also collapsed but Aceh and West Papua continue to witness enforced disappearances. Nepal has seen an end to its armed conflict, yet the leaders who swore to protect freedom and democracy deny the people of justice. Sri Lanka has seen 60,000 people disappeared over the last several years. The Bangladeshi government claims to prosecute the alleged perpetrators of crimes committed in the 1971 war for independence, but its hands are also drenched with the blood of its own people. South Korea demands justice for the transgressions of North Korea, but hardly sees anything outside of it. In Kashmir, disappearances continue and India still refuses to tell the truth about the 8,000 people disappeared and has yet to prosecute perpetrators.
The year 2013 ended with the Government of Argentina bestowing upon me the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize on 10 December 2013. It is a recognition of the significance of the struggle against enforced disappearances in Asia that submitted the highest number of cases to the United Nations.
At the end of 2013, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention) garnered 92 signatories and 41 States parties. While Asia has rampant cases of disappearances, the only additional State party to the Convention is Cambodia. Not one Asian country has replicated the Philippines in enacting an anti-enforced disappearance law. In Nepal, a nagging insistence for false reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators by merging the anti-disappearance bill with the truth commission blocks the road to a genuine and lasting peace. The much-awaited ratification of the Convention by Indonesia was not realized… No progress was seen in South Korea on victims of disappearances committed by North Korea.
The year 2012 ended with the enactment of Republic Act 10353 or the Philippine Anti- Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012. It was followed by the promulgation of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on 12 February 2013. The law signifies a moral victory for the families of the disappeared in the Philippines who, amidst many constraints, persistently campaigned for an antidisappearance law until their twilight years, and for some, till the very end of their lives. Giving cognizance to the invaluable contribution of the authors, families of the disappeared profoundly value the law as a major form of justice. A recognition of the cruelty of this state-perpetrated crime, it gives prime importance to the desaparecidos; recognizes their sacrifices and the sufferings of their loved ones; seeks truth, justice, rehabilitation, reparation and non-recurrence.
For this, the AFAD salutes the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) for the grand success of its campaign - making the Philippines the first in Asia to have an anti-enforced disappearance law. Such exemplary work may not exactly be replicated in other countries, but its very process is an experience that could serve as a guide for all those who struggle to erase enforced disappearance from the face of the earth.
Justice for all desaparecidos!
The struggle for truth and justice of victims and survivors of enforced disappearances has been waged for decades. In individual cases, it started when a person was made to disappear, but rarely ended even when the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared have been clarified. In many situations, the struggle continues beyond the clarification of the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons. The victims, as exemplified by those in Latin America, Africa, Europe and particularly in our region Asia, forge on with the struggle for justice, reparation, memory and guarantees for non-recurrence.
The Voice is a bi-annual publication of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD). It is providing you with the latest on human rights with focus on involuntary disappearance issue within the Asian region. AFAD welcomes contributions but reserves editorial rights.
Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso
Sara La Rocca and Ivanka Custodio