International Day of the Disappeared Brings a Grim Reminder
For three years, the United Nations has marked the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 in recognition of the fact that “enforced disappearances” have no place in a world that aspires to freedom and justice.
An “enforced disappearance” is defined as “deprivation of liberty outside of the protection of the law by agents of government or of authority through concealment of the victim’s whereabouts.”
Beyond this definition, however, is the immense suffering of families haunted by the fate of the “desaparecidos,” the term used for the disappeared in the Philippines.
In Asia, where most governments hide behind the pretext of law and order and national security, official rhetoric has failed to cover up enforced disappearances.
In Bangladesh, 24 disappeared were documented in 2012. This year, there have already been 14 documented cases, allegedly perpetrated by members of the Rapid Action Battalion, the Police Detective Branch and the Industrial Police.
In Jammu and Kashmir in India’s restive northwest, conflicting statements by different government agencies have become a feature of this issue. There have been more than 8,000 cases of recorded disappearances since 1989, yet successive governments have officially downplayed the number. In 2005, the People’s Democratic Party-led government claimed there were 3,931 such cases. In 2009, the National Conference-led government claimed 3,429 missing and then last year, the same government claimed only 2,305 people had disappeared since 1989.
Whether there has been just one or thousands of victims is of secondary concern. What is essential is an effective mechanism for probing cases of violations, finding victims, easing the burden and suffering of families and for holding governments accountable within a human rights framework.
In Indonesia, the entrenched and successful use of terror during the New Order regime (1965-1998) terrified the populace into not reporting enforced disappearances. Even with the change of government, 414 mostly unsolved cases of missing persons were documented in the restive province of Aceh alone from 1999 to 2005.
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