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



Where Are They?
Reliving the Historical Memory and Ending Impunity

by Jennifer S. Pacursa1


On the 21st commemoration of the International Week of the Disappeared (IWD) on May 25-31, 2003 by the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared - Detainees (FEDEFAM), the question raised two decades ago is still the same . Where are they? 

It has been recognized that involuntary disappearance is a perfect crime whereby people are eliminated by perpetrators who escape responsibility due to the culture of impunity. The practice of involuntary disappearances is done clandestinely almost without evidence, leaving only guesses and speculations. The consequences for the family and friends are cruel and heart- wrenching. The worst is that families and relatives have no concrete information on the fate or whereabouts of their loved ones. All they’ve got are the memories of yesteryears and a picture of their loved ones and other memorabilias

Twenty- one years ago, the need to organize an annual intensive campaign about involuntary disappearances was seen. Hence, families of the disappeared who compose the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared- Detainees (FEDEFAM) initiated a week-long activity, the IWD. 

The purpose of the IWD is to give tribute to those who disappeared and focus public interest and awareness on the phenomenon of enforced or involuntary disappearances. The IWD was first initiated by associations of relatives of the disappeared from Latin America and later adopted by organizations from other continents. Activities ranged from public fora to conferences, memorial events, artistic demonstrations, public demonstrations or religious services.

Skeletons inside the closet of the perpetrators are highlighted through these multifarious activities conducted simultaneously worldwide . This is especially so now that this cruel violation of human rights is spreading throughout the world and is not only practiced in dictatorships but also in democracies. The week is the most opportune time for the families and relatives of the victims to speak up, testify what has happened to their loved ones and resolve once again to struggle for truth, justice and redress . Advocates of human rights and other sectors of society must link arms together for enforced or involuntary disappearances to be eradicated from the face of the world.

This traditionally commemorated event is a form of protest - a challenge to the new generation not to take for granted the freedom achieved from the struggles of the disappeared . Most importantly, it is a constant reminder that the disappeared should never ever be forgotten.

The Commemoration of the IWD in Asia

Since the formation of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) in 1998, the Federation has been able to put faces and names to the thousands of disappeared persons in Asia. 

In August 2002, AFAD accepted the application for membership of the Tiananmen Mothers in China and the Truth and Justice Commission in Pakistan. The first five members of the Federation are the Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons (APDP) in Kashmir, India; Commission for the Disappeared Victims of Violence (KontraS) in Indonesia; Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND) in the Philippines; Organization of Parents and Family Members of the Disappeared (OPFMD) in Sri Lanka, and the Relatives Committee of the May 1992 Heroes in Thailand. Majority of these organizations, in their own creative ways, commemorated the IWD.

The Hong Kong office of the Human Rights in China, a New York based international human rights organization, translated the cover story of the April issue of “ “ The Voice, “ “ They do not ask for charity… they demand justice! “ This is the group’s modest contribution to this regionally coordinated event noting that the IWD is just a week before the 14th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. Hence, the group was also preparing for the said anniversary. 

In Indonesia, KontraS and IKOHI jointly opened the IWD together with a press conference. Unfortunately, during this time, 150 people from the Pemuda Panca Marga (PPM) or the Youth of the Veterans, attacked KontraS’ office destroying files, computers, file cabinets, and other pieces of equipment. The perpetrators also wounded three KontraS staff members. When the attack was going on, police forces were around but did nothing on the flimsy reason that the PPM elements were too many to handle. This was the second time the office has been attacked, with the first raid occurring on March 13, 2002. 

The PPM is an organization of children of the veterans, whose office is located on a military base. Those who attacked KontraS’ offices are based at the PPM Central Jakarta Branch, whose address is at the Military District Command. The PPM attacked KontraS / Ikohi for their position on the on-going conflict in Aceh.

In a statement signed by Ikohi Chairperson, Mugiyanto, KontraS and Ikohi considered the attack as a “cadeau of a gift” as it happened during the beginning of the organization’s commemoration of the International Week of the Disappeared. “ Most of all, the attack showed the effectiveness of our work in controlling, criticizing and correcting government policies. Moreover, it is believed that civil society is being threatened by the present government as manifested by the military’s dominance over civilian authority.” 

During the same week, about 50 people, mostly relatives and families of the disappeared, students and public transportation drivers picketed in front of the State Palace in Jakarta bringing with them banners stating the government’s accountability for the cases of involuntary disappearances . Earlier , KontraS and Ikohi asked for an appointment with Indonesian President Sukarnoupotri Megawati, but were told that the President was unavailable. 

Furthermore, members of KontraS and Ikohi went to the office of Komnas Ham, the office of Commission of Human Rights in Jakarta. KontraS and Ikohi demanded Komnas Ham to form a group to investigate the cases of involuntary disappearances in their country. 

In Pakistan, The Truth and Justice Commission organized during this week three functions spearheaded by its coordinator Atty. Farooq Niazi to educate people that involuntary disappearances are the cruelest acts known to humanity. The Commission conducted a consultation between families of victims of disappearances and 12 lawyers and deliberated on legal processes cases related to involuntary disappearances from registration of cases and to their proceedings in the court at Bagh, a district headquarter. The organization also conducted another function where it met the members of the victims. Lastly, it conducted a press conference where media practitioners were informed about the background of the IWD and the activities of AFAD.

In the Philippines, FIND continues to lobby for the passing of the bill entitled, “ Anti -Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2003.” It has been 8 years since the bill was drafted, yet the administrations, past and present, have failed to expedite the passage of the law, which if realized, will be the first in Asia.

During the week, the organization mounted a photo exhibit at the Senate to once again reiterated to the Senate the urgency of enacting the bill into law. FIND, in cooperation with AFAD, actively lobbied for the passing of the Consolidated Bill. This activity was complemented with a radio interview where FIND Secretary-General Louie Crismo and AFAD General Secretary Mary Aileen Bacalso jointly discussed the global issue of enforced or involuntary disappearance as a crime against humanity which necessitates the punishment of the perpetrators and redress for the victims and their families.

FIND also conducted an open forum wherein the support of the local government officials for the bill was sought. The bill, if enacted into law, will facilitate the resolution of past cases and the prevention of their recurrence . To culminate the occasion, a tree planting activity at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani (Monument for Heroes) was organized to symbolize the lives of fallen martyrs. 

Meanwhile, unlike the families and relatives of the Tiananmen Massacre, who have no chance to mourn for their missing loved ones, Sri Lankan families paid homage to their disappeared in their monument at Sri Jayawardenepura known as Ahinsakainge Aramaya (Temple of the Innocents). The monument was cleaned by members of the Organization of Parents and Family Members of the Disappeared (OPFMD) and well-wishers of the organization under a Sharamadhana programme. 

In a report presented by Mr. Shantha Pathirana, the group also conducted a picket in front of the Chinese Embassy in Colombo in support for the Tiananmen Mothers’ demands to reveal the truth and give justice to the victims. However, Chinese Embassy personnel based in Colombo refused to accept the letter so the organization opted to mail the letter directly to the Ambassador of China assigned in Sri Lanka. 

In another development, more than 60 family members went to the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka in support of the week-long hunger strike that APDP initiated to pressure the Indian government to stop enforced disappearances in Jammu and Kashmir and punish perpetrators responsible for such violations. Representatives of the Indian High Commission listened to them and were able to discuss the issue before accepting the petition letter. 

The organization also conducted a signature campaign where it was able to gather 5,000 signatures of people demanding for justice for victims of disappearances, and equality among Sri Lankan people. This petition was submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission and local authorities.

Inspiration From Latin America 

Mrs. Marta Vasquez, President of FEDEFAM, said in her letter to organizations of families of the disappeared in Latin America and Asia: “ This is the time when we should reminisce the memory of the disappeared. The horror of injustice, torture and political oppression done to our loved ones must be remembered and our struggle must be forged with more strength and firmness.” 

She added: “ It is time that peoples from Latin America , Asia, Africa, Europe and the rest of the world reflect about the need to work together despite the distance that separates us . In this manner, we can work for justice of all desaparecidos with greater intensity.” The 18 member-organizations of FEDEFAM , who pioneer this important commemoration , simultaneously commemorated a unified action to end impunity. 

An Important Contribution to End Impunity

Short as it was, the international commemoration for the disappeared was a busy week for the member organizations of AFAD, FEDEFAM and other organizations in other continents as they simultaneously organized series of activities in remembrance of all desaparecidos all over the world. For them, it was an effective form of protest and a loud cry to end impunity. People all over the world hope that one day , such inhumanity and injustice will come to an end. The commemoration of the IWD is a means to make this dream a reality.

1Jennifer S. Pacursa was a freelance research reporter and college instructor at a Protestant school in Cagayan de Oro before joining the AFAD Regional Secretariat in Manila, Philippines. She is an alumna of Silliman University with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and has earned her MBA at Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan ) specializing in production and program development.

VOICE September 2003


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