AFAD REMEMBERS AND HONORS THE MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN VICTIMS OF ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE IN ASIA AND THE WORLD
On the 32nd year of the commemoration of the International Week of the Disappeared, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) joins the families and friends of victims of enforced disappearance in remembering, paying tribute and restoring the dignity of the men, women and children who were made to disappear in Asia and the rest of the world.
Who were these victims and why do we honor them?
In the Asian region, most of these men and women victims of enforced disappearance fought for political freedom and democracy in countries under repressive governments. They were then called enemies of the State who defied the dictatorships of then President Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Gen. Suharto in Indonesia, Gen. Chon Doo Hwan in South Korea, and Gen.Suchinda Kraprayoon in Thailand in Southeast Asia during the ‘70s to ‘80s. They were hunted by agents of these dictatorial governments.
Some of them were men and women who fought for independence against the occupation or annexation of their independent States – as in the case of Timor Leste (the former Portuguese Timor which was invaded and occupied by Indonesia in 1975-1999) and the independent State of Jammu and Kashmir which is being administered by India. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, majority of the victims in countries embroiled in internal armed conflicts such as in Sri Lanka and Nepal were combatants, supporters or plain community members in armed conflict areas.
In Bangladesh, majority of victims of enforced disappearance were freedom fighters during the Liberation War in 1971 when the former East Pakistan seceded from West Pakistan and declared the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. In recent years, victims of enforced disappearance are said to be opposition activists, local traders, workers and some who were abducted because of criminal feuds or business rivalries.
In Asian countries under democratic transition or in fledgling democratic states, victims of enforced disappearances are those who continue to fight for political reforms as well as those who demanded for their basic rights. They were farmers, workers, informal settlers, and non-teaching personnel who simply asserted and demanded their rights to land, work and decent wages, to unionize, to have decent housing and education. A significant number of them were students, teachers and journalists who fought for academic and press freedom; lawyers and medical professionals who practiced their profession and assisted people who sought their services; or religious leaders who spoke on behalf of the marginalized peoples against repression. They helped empower people to speak for themselves and assert their rights.
They were innocent men, women and children relatives and friends of the disappeared who were “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Since their relatives were considered enemies of the State, government security forces, in the course of hunting their “enemies,” victimized their innocent children, relatives, and even friends. They were harassed, arrested, imprisoned, some summarily killed, while others were also disappeared. During the Indonesian invasion of East Timor for example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) documented 4,200 missing children. Until now, many of their whereabouts are uncertain.
Thus, on the occasion of the International Week of the Disappeared, AFAD salutes the men and women victims of enforced disappearance. They are human rights advocates and defenders, not enemies of the State. AFAD recognizes their valiant contribution towards social transformation where principles of human rights, freedom, justice and peace serve as its foundation.
AFAD calls on the children of the disappeared to stand up and be acknowledged. Be proud of the noble deeds of your parents. They are heroes.
AFAD also calls on each and every one of us to take a few minutes of silence and offer our heartfelt thanks and prayers to these courageous men and women who selfishly dedicated their lives to the betterment of society so others can live better lives.
Let their deeds inspire us further. Let us impart to the younger generation the ideals of a just, free and peace-loving society these victims aspired for. The tasks they have started are not yet finished. The road to genuine freedom and democracy is filled with roadblocks and detours. The culture of impunity is still very much ingrained in the minds of key institutions that are threatened with the culture of human rights.
AFAD calls on States to STOP the Culture of Impunity by enacting laws criminalizing enforced disappearance and to accede to the International Convention Against Enforced Disappearance.
Further, AFAD calls on the States and their agencies to come up with policies and programs to support the families of disappeared victims who are facing psycho-emotional and socio-economic difficulties. Majority of the disappeared are men who are the breadwinners. Women are often left to bear the social and economic impact of the disappearance. Consequently, the children can no longer continue going to school. In many cases, the eldest child has to find work to support the -family.
Moreover, the women relatives of the disappeared also face procedural problems in their claims to inheritance of their disappeared loved ones because of the uncertainty of their status – they cannot be declared as widows. In the course of their search for justice for their loved ones, women also face the risk of sexual and other violence and could be subjected to disappearance, too.
Enforced disappearance is a multi-faceted issue that requires multi-faceted interventions. Let this International Week of the Disappeared, initiated by the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) be an opportunity for government agencies concerned, civil society organizations, and the general public to reflect and plan strategies to curb this problem.
Mugiyanto Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso
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