[Statement] Thirteen Years of Struggle: Our Choice, Our Responsibility – AFAD

Aileen Bacalso, AFAD Sec Gen. Photo by Celia Lagman

4 June 2011 – Today, we commemorate the 13th anniversary of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), a regional federation of organizations and human rights advocates working directly on the issue of enforced disappearance. Thirteen years ago, the federation came into being as a regional response to enforced disappearances in the Asian continent.  Inspired by the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM), the conceptualization and birth of AFAD were prompted by the imperative of solidarity with all those victimized by the common malady of enforced disappearance.

From a core of three organizations, the Federation has eventually grown itself into a pro-active regional human rights federation of eleven member-organizations from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor Leste who are working hand in hand in conducting regional and international solidarity, lobby and campaign work.  Being the Focal Point of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearance, it closely cooperates with similar formations from other continents and with other international organizations working on the same issue.

For the last 13 years, we have gathered some strength that stems from the strength of our member-organizations. Through them, the federation has become the voice of thousands of voiceless victims and families of the disappeared in Asia, a continent where strong regional mechanisms for truth and justice do not exist and where there is no distinct and autonomous law that penalizes enforced disappearances.

Our thirteen years of campaigning against the global malady of enforced disappearance, particularly our consistent and active presence during the drafting and negotiation process of the treaty in Geneva from 2003-2006 has contributed to the adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2006.  We knocked at the doors of houses of parliaments, offices of heads of states and the huge edifices of the United Nations in Geneva and New York and in the process, helped in pushing for the signing by 88 governments of the Convention and of the 26 governments to ratify.  This new Convention which provides among other things, the right to truth and the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, sends a strong message to all governments that this state-sponsored violence that inflicts misery on hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, must be put to an end.   It entered into force on 23 December 2010.  Two days ago, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances established by the United Nations to ensure the treaty’s implementation, was officially constituted.

We reckon that the democratization processes in many Asian countries have allowed us to take active part in the political arena by demanding from governments to put human rights at the center of governance and as a clear state policy.  Specifically, we are urging them to codify the human rights violations in their penal codes.   Complementing our lobbying efforts, our member-organizations conduct legal and extralegal means to push the authorities to take necessary measures to address this odious crime and prevent it from happening again.

Without the participation of the families of the disappeared, who are our very constituents, all these would not have been made possible.  Thus, during the last thirteen years, aware of the imperative of empowerment, we have responded amidst resources constraints, to the needs for conscientization, psychosocial rehabilitation and other forms of direct assistance program for the families of the disappeared.  Furthermore, we facilitated various forms of solidarity among families of the disappeared within Asia and with other continents, thus, convincing the families of the victims that after all, they are not alone in the struggle.  Being in the most correct position to bring the issue of enforced disappearance to the fore, the families of the disappeared have eventually overcome fear, loneliness, despair and trauma and take the front line for the sake of their beloved desaparecidos.

We recognize that the path that we have chosen is less traveled but we take the journey with a full sense of responsibility. Seeking the truth, demanding for accountability and ensuring guarantees of non-repetition are tasks that are never easy. Mountains have to be moved and stormy seams have to be sailed to find truth, attain justice and to keep the memory of our dear desaparecidos alive.

During these last thirteen years, we have struggled to withstand the tests of time and we did.  Through these years, we have seen repression and injustice resulting in, among many other cases, the loss of our Chairperson, Munir and our human rights defender, Aasia Jeelani.  But these never dampened our spirit.  Instead, we have been inspired to labor harder.   Equally important is that we have overcome cultural, religious and language heterogeneity and concentrated on our basis of unity because we are aware that divided we fall, united we stand.

Today, we pay tribute to the victims and families-turned-human rights defenders in our country of base and in various other parts of the world who are our very reason for existence. We likewise remember the martyrs and heroes of the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, who, twenty-two years ago, were killed and made to disappear while the members of the Tiananmen Mothers continue to be persecuted.

As we commemorate this 13th anniversary, we are reminded that our work is not yet over.  For as long as there is a case of disappearance that remains unresolved and for as long as a family of a desaparecido continues to suffer, we will embrace the challenge of continue building a solid and more dynamic federation that will contribute to the eradication of enforced disappearance from the face of the earth.

On its 13th anniversary, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) renews its commitment to assert and defend human rights as both a choice and a responsibility.

Signed by:

Chairperson                   Secretary-General


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