[Statement] Remembering the Disappeared Without Graves to Visit…-AFAD

Remembering the Disappeared Without Graves to Visit…

All Souls’ Day, also known as Day of Remembrance of the dearly departed, is commemorated mostly by Catholics all over the world every 2nd day of November. Literatures describe it as a day of “solemn feast” , of visiting the tombs of loved ones in the cemetery where prayers are offered along with fresh flowers and lit candles. It is a day characterized as a collective activity where families and friends gather together to remember the dearly departed. Other cultures make the occasion festive with food, colorful altars with photos of the dead and other memorabilia.

Countries where Catholics are the majority, like the Philippines and Timor Leste, declare All Souls’ Day a national holiday so that relatives can visit their loved ones in the cemeteries. All Souls’ Day is also called differently by many languages. The Czechs call it “Commemoration of All the Departed” . Other cultures refer to it as Day of the Dead, translated as Día de los Muertos for Mexicans, Halottak Napja for Hungarians and Dia de Finados for Brazilians. Poles regard All Souls’ Day as zaduszki, a day when all the windows and doors are opened to welcome the spirits of the dead .

Named and commemorated in various ways, All Souls’ Day is a significant occasion. For the relatives and friends of the disappeared, who have no graves to visit, remembering and honoring their missing loved ones is important for grieving and healing. They visit memorials, monuments, mock graves to pray and light candles for their loved ones.

Victims of enforced disappearances, as defined by the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances are those “ arrested, detained, abducted or subjected to any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) reported that enforced disappearances are a major human rights concern in 94 countries. In 2011, UNWGEID reported of 53, 788 outstanding cases and more are being disappeared, especially in Asia.
The agonies experienced by relatives and friends of the disappeared are multi-faceted especially because the state of the victims of enforced disappearances remains uncertain – whether they are still alive or may have died. Relatives face the grim reality of uncertainty each day until the victim surfaces, or his/her dead body has been recovered and given a decent burial.

For families and friends of the disappeared who have accepted the possibility of death for their missing kin, All Souls’ Day is an occasion to join with the rest of the believers who offer prayers for their departed loved ones. They partake of the communal ritual of offering prayers and of remembering the many ways by which their loved ones touched their lives and of drawing inspiration from these memories. For some, this is a ritual that gives strength in their continued search for their disappeared loved ones and in their demand for justice and accountability from State authorities.

In this case, memorial sites for the disappeared are important for relatives and friends to spend solemn time with, gather together as a family where they can offer prayers and flowers; light candles. The AFAD calls on governments in Asia and the rest of the world to respect the right of the relatives for spaces to remember and honor their missing loved ones.

For those who are still hopeful that their missing kin are alive, All Souls’ Day can be interpreted as a Day of Remembering -a Day of Prayer in their search for TRUTH and JUSTICE. It is a Day of HOPE, that one day, the perpetrators of this cruellest form of human rights violation will be arrested, prosecuted and meted the corresponding punishment. This can only be possible when the enforced disappearance is defined as a crime in the country’s penal code, perpetrators be punished accordingly and families be accorded of the right to know the truth; to reparation and rehabilitation and guarantees of non-repetition.

Thus, the Asian Federation Against Enforced Disappearances (AFAD) calls on President Simeon Benigno Aquino III to immediately sign the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act of 2012 recently ratified by both chambers of the Philippine Congress. To date, there are 2,201 documented cases of enforced disappearances (according to Families of Victims of Enforced Disappearances) that happened since the Marcos administration, including 17 under the current administration. The families are hoping that justice can be served for their loved ones under the government of President “Noynoy” Aquino.

On this occasion, as AFAD joins all families of the disappeared in commemorating this significant day, it calls on Asian governments to criminalize enforced disappearance in their respective penal codes; sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance without further delay and recognize the competence of the Committee Against Enforced Disappearances.

Signed by:

MUGIYANTO, Chairperson

MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO, Secretary-General

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