Table of Contents


- Strengthening AFAD’s Unity…

Cover Story

- Years of Trials and Triumphs…

Country Situations

- NO political reform, NO hope for justice…

- Hunger Strike

- Indonesian Human Rights Movement…

- Crime and Punishment

- Anti-enforced Disappearance Bill

Human Interest

- A Life That is Never The Same Again

Photo Essay

- Kashmiri families of missing person stage…

Book Review

- Disappearances in Sri Lanka

Report on International Lobbying

- A Narrative of Contrast


- Where are They?
- Working Towards an African Network

- Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency…

News Brief

Mid Year Report



Years of Trials and Triumphs... 

by Mary Aileen D. Bacalso1

Offering Their Lives So That We May Live…

June 4, 2003 - The song Unang Alay (First Offering) was sung as white roses were being offered for all victims of the Tiananmen massacre and all the disappeared in Asia and the rest of the world in a liturgy officiated by Father Bernard Roosendaal, O’Carm at the Mercedes Concepcion Seminar Room, Philippine Social Science Center, Quezon City, Philippines. While the white roses were offered, everybody who joined the prayer signed a card to support the demands of the Tiananmen Mothers. For, once and for all, 14 years after the gruesome massacre of June 4, 1989, the victims and their families deserve no less than truth, justice and redress. 

Unang Alay is one of the nationalistic songs sung especially during those darkest years of the Marcos regime. Its inspiration came from the heroic deaths of many revolutionaries during the Marcos regime who opted for armed struggle as the means of resolving the country’s social ills. Its lyrics very appropriately fitted the occasion of the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, whose victims offered their lives for the ransom of many.

The offertory song was also meant for all the desaparecidos of Asia and the rest of the world, whose whereabouts remain unknown because the activity also intended to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).

In a meaningful liturgy, prayers of the faithful expressed adoration to God who continues to bestow life both upon the organization and upon the individuals that compose it. It also manifested contrition for those times when, overwhelmed by our own problems, we sometimes failed to realize that others may have been suffering even more. Grateful for the solidarity received by AFAD all these years, the prayers thanked God for the Federation’s having surpassed the tests of time. The prayers were also that of supplication – asking God for strength because attaining His Kingdom here on earth is no easy task.

The Tiananmen Mothers’ struggle has withstood the tests of time. This, in itself, is a cause for celebration because despite an intense security situation, they never give up. Their fearlessness in suing the Chinese government for the atrocities it committed against its own people merits the world’s commendation. Their strength of spirit is a source of inspiration to go on amidst different kinds of difficulties. The extensive support they receive from the international human rights community is a bountiful blessing - a very reason for rejoicing. 

As FEDEFAM Adviser, Patricio Rice said in his message to the Tiananmen Mothers: “ It seems only yesterday when your sons and daughters were brutally cut down because of their struggle for dignity and freedom. Yet, 14 years have gone by. It is certainly too much as you have not been able yet to achieve even a recognition of justice. But you are maintaining the message of your children and their light will shine forth. ’’

By mere coincidence, June 4 is both the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre which occurred 14 years ago and the anniversary of the establishment of AFAD. There is not much reason to celebrate in terms of attaining the much-cherished dream for justice. But there is certainly every reason to hope, to struggle and to celebrate the solidarity achieved through the years. 

The birth of AFAD five years ago is a cause for celebration. The solidarity of organizations concerned with the phenomenon of involuntary disappearances and other forms of human rights violations is a reason to continue hoping and struggling that with our unified strength, one day, all our struggles will be laid to rest. 

The Launching of the AFAD Website - Projecting the Asian Phenomenon of Involuntary Disappearances: An Integral Part of Our Search
for Justice

In the words of keynote speaker Atty. Rene Sarmiento, “Disappearance is SARS (Severe Acute Revolving Sin). This sinful practice continues and every effort must therefore be exerted and every design must be fashioned to destroy its roots and all. All this can be done by waging our campaign in the fertile areas of education, organization, lobby work, documentation, networking, legislation, judicial reform, information technology, etc.” 

Thus, AFAD maximizes existing information technology. Concretely, to give further significance to the two events, the AFAD Secretariat deemed fit to launch its website: AFAD believes that projecting the phenomenon of involuntary disappearances, being an integral part of its search for justice, can be very well realized through the use of information technology. In cooperation with the Royal Netherlands Embassy, the website was made possible.

The website contains basic information regarding the Federation; articles written in its bi-annual magazine, “The Voice;” a photographic account of the AFAD history, issues; events and statements and positions of the Federation and its member-organizations; membership profiles, the Asian map, contacts and links. 

Mr. Bastiaan van de Loo of the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Manila, who contributed in no small measure to the approval of funds for the realization of the website, said that the embassy is contributing to help AFAD become a stronger organization. Moreover, he said it is convinced that in these days of information dissemination on the internet, the website is necessary so that a large number of people are able to learn about the plight of human rights victims.

The website enables AFAD to further project itself internationally. Parvez Imroz of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Kashmir commented that the website is “ a form of protest to the still unresolved and on-going crime of enforced or involuntary disappearances.” Mugiyanto from Ikohi- Indonesia recognized the importance of the website for the international campaign. Chine Chan of the Tiananmen Mothers Campaign in Hong Kong said that “ the AFAD website is a very powerful and precious form of solidarity,” which touched her heart and moved her to the verge of tears. FEDEFAM adviser, Patricio Rice said: “ What good news of an AFAD website! We can visit you when we wish no matter how far away you are.”

The presentation done by the website developer, Mr. Ian Cuevas of the Double I Digital Inc. got its well-deserved round of applause by the audience who celebrated with AFAD its 5th anniversary.

The creation of a website is part of the AFAD Three-Year General Plan of Action for June 2000 – August 2003. During this 5th year of AFAD’s existence, the website has finally been realized.

AFAD - Five Years of Trials and Triumphs

During the anniversary, AFAD was greeted by more than twenty organizations from many parts of the world – the Philippines, Indonesia, Kashmir, Australia, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Croatia, Argentina, Venezuela and El Salvador. 

Patron of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, AFAD core group member, Atty. Parvez Imroz said in his anniversary message to all AFAD members: “ At the time of its launching by three members, there was a lot of skepticisms from different quarters about its success. But the federation is now full blown….The major contribution of AFAD is that the member- organizations working under different political systems feel that they are part of the family and not alone in their struggle against enforced or involuntary disappearances. ’’ 

Mrs. Marta Vasquez, FEDEFAM President said in her message of solidarity: “All of the members of FEDEFAM have felt enormous satisfaction and happiness as we’ve watched how each of the member country of AFAD has advanced in these five years. We are extremely proud of your rapid response to the grave violations that are taking place in all your countries…”

Patricio Rice further gave encouraging words to AFAD: “ …You have much to be proud of. You have brought families and victims across the immense continent of Asia. No religion, no language, no ethnic difference have been able to impede your building the movement together. Although you are facing powerful and ruthless opposition as we have seen in the recent attacks against the families in Indonesia, you continue defending your loved ones and demand full accountability. FEDEFAM wishes to share your achievements in wishing you the very best.” 

Rev. Fr. Jon de Cortina, S.J., Director of the Asociacion Pro Busqueda de Niñas y Niños Desaparecidos, who was together with AFAD during its stage of conceptualization and infancy, said: “… es de gran esperanza ver como AFAD ha crecido y ya son 7 las agrupaciones que la constituyen. “ (It is a great hope to see how AFAD has grown – already it is composed of seven organizations.)

Mrs. Ljubica Butula, Honorary President of the Phoenix of Croatia, in her message of solidarity, remembers that they are proud of being a part of the foundation of AFAD five years ago when her colleague, Stefica Krstic was present in Manila during the launching of the Federation’s core group.

Mrs. Martha Meijer, Director of HOM and Linking Solidarity congratulated AFAD for its five years of dynamic existence. Nevertheless, she looks forward to the moment when AFAD will not be necessary anymore because it shall have already served its purpose.

These and many other inspiring words of solidarity are indispensable sources of inspiration as AFAD continues to march through its journey amidst uncertainties and risks.

Moreover, AFAD should recognize that its very existence and growth are in themselves, a manifestation of regional solidarity. Cooperating with FEDEFAM , RADIF of Africa and the Union of Associations of Missing Defenders of the Former Yugoslavia, founded on the principles of mutual sharing, respect and transparency, AFAD very well proves its much-avowed principle of international solidarity.

The fact that the United Nations has, this year, started the process of studying the possibility for an international treaty through the creation of a legally-binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced or involuntary disappearances is the result of a long-drawn struggle for justice by FEDEFAM and the more recent contribution of AFAD towards creating this very important international treaty.

The projection of the issue of involuntary disappearances as a phenomenon in the Asian region should be recognized as AFAD’s contribution so that involuntary disappearances shall never happen again.

The 5th AFAD anniversary should also remind the AFAD member-organizations that the struggle is far from over. The difficulties and problems it encountered should serve as lessons to further strengthen its unity. The accomplishments it has collectively garnered in the span of five years, which prove the relevance and viability for a regional cooperation, should be sustained at all levels. Uncertain though its path may be, yet for the sake of the cause of those who disappeared, for their families, the greater society and the generations of today and tomorrow, the Federation should blossom forth and bear concrete fruits.

The search for the disappeared, for truth, justice and redress should guide and inspire AFAD through the storms and until victory.

1Mary Aileen D. Bacalso started her involvement in human rights as a Mass Communication student of St. Theresa‘s College, Cebu City, Philippines. To concretize her option for the poor, deprived and oppressed, she worked with Church-related human rights organizations from 1983-1991. She served as the Secretary-General of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances from 1992-1995 and continued her work in the same organization as its Co-Chairperson from 1995-2001. She continues her human rights advocacy through her profound involvement in the work of AFAD. By dint of her rich experiences in this field, she has been invited to a number of international conferences to impart the work of the Federation.

VOICE September 2003


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