The Right Not to be Disappeared: A Product of the Blood, Sweat and Tears of Victims and Families of Enforced Disappearances around the world
Sixty-five years ago, 48 member countries of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), recognizing “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
The UDHR inspired many human rights activists and defenders around the world to fight for their human rights. One of such great legends was the revered Nelson Mandela, whose recent death brought back memories of his anti-apartheid struggle and his 27 years of imprisonment. His and the struggles of many women, men, girls and boys who were or have been human rights defenders before us further defined and sharpened the various aspects of human rights resulting in the crafting of specific human rights treaties and declarations.
Similarly, the families of victims of involuntary disappearances, undaunted by threats to their lives in the pursuit of justice for their disappeared loved ones lobbied with the international community for the UN to adopt a specific international treaty that would address the phenomenon of enforced disappearance. Initiated by Latin American organizations under Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos (FEDEFAM), other regional bodies were formed and became a potent lobby force. Their steadfastness bore fruit when the UN adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED) on 20 December 2006 and entered into force on 23 December 2010. This Convention declared a new right – the right not to be disappeared and States parties are duty bound to protect its citizens.
The above examples show that our human rights were not given to us in silver platter; rather, while inherent and inalienable, they are the fruit of the blood, sweat and tears of activists, defenders and freedom fighters around the world.
However, for the families of victims of enforced disappearance, the entry into force of ICPAPED is not a guarantee to end this heinous crime. In fact, men and women from different walks of life from around the world continue to be disappeared until today and only very few get punished. The government of Lao for example signed the Convention yet on 15 December 2012, it disappeared Sombath Somphone, a human rights defender and 2005 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for community leadership. He was last seen taken by the police after his car was stopped. Despite repeated calls from the international community and even the United Nations, the Lao government continues to deny its involvement even though recent reliable reports gathered by AFAD show otherwise.
The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) reported in January this year that there are 53,986 cases transmitted to its office since its inception in February 1980 where 42,889 cases from 84 States are in active consideration (have not yet been clarified, closed or discontinued). Here in the Philippines, the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND) documented 1,838 victims of enforced disappearance where 436 surfaced alive, 256 found dead and 1,146 are still missing. This includes the high profile case of Jonas Burgos whose whereabouts are unknown till now. Fortunately for this case, an Army Officer is now facing trial. But for majority of the cases, there has been no progress in the relatives’ search for justice.
The continued search for their missing loved ones and their desire to end impunity encouraged the members of FIND and their allied organizations to lobby for a law criminalizing enforced disappearance. After 16 long years of indefatigable advocacy, President Benigno Aquino III signed RA 10353 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, the first of such kind in Asia. Now the families are actively involved in fleshing out the contents of the Implementing Rules and Regulations especially in matters concerning restitution, compensation and guarantees of non-repetition among other substantial aspects of the law.
In the same manner in Indonesia, the relatives and friends of IKOHI and KontraS have long lobbied for their government to ratify the ICPAPED. Just last week, its foreign ministry and the Foreign Affairs Commission of the House of Representatives agreed to ratify it but delayed the ratification pending further discussions on some parts of the law.
In Latin America, especially in Argentina, the perseverance of the relatives, the commitment of its government to uphold human rights and the general attitude of its people in preserving the memories of the disappeared paved the way for the continued prosecution of perpetrators of the Dirty War in the 1970s which disappeared thousands of people (12,000 officially declared and 30,000 estimated to have been killed or disappeared).
“These are but some of the positive developments in the fight to end impunity,” says Mary Aileen Bacalso, Secretary-General of AFAD and this year’s Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Awardee. “The lessons of the past remind us to continuously defend our human rights, safeguard our gains and monitor the State’s implementation of international human rights laws and policies” she adds.
For Mugiyanto, AFAD Chairperson and himself a surfaced disaparecido, human rights continue to evolve in a complex and globalized world and the challenge is for all of us to continually deepen our understanding and practice of the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of peoples not only in situations of armed conflicts and insurgencies but also within the context of large scale disasters and climate change.
MARY AILEEN DIEZ-BACALSO
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
Rms. 310-311 Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.,
Commonwealth Ave., Diliman, 1103 Quezon City
10 December 2013
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