On August 30, 2002, the international human rights community commemorated the International Day of the Disappeared. Simultaneous activities were conducted by AFAD member-organizations to give due honor to the desaparecidos and to once again renew its resolve never to let this thing happen again.

2002 2002-09-26T10:00:00+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCES:

A VIOLATION OF THE UNIVERSAL RIGHT TO LIFE

(A Statement issued by AFAD during the Commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, 2002)

August 30, 2002 – On the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared, the

Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), composed of seven

organizations from China, Kashmir of India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and

Thailand, remember those who were made to involuntarily disappear by the states which

ironically claim to uphold and protect human rights.

Today, linking arms with the Federacion Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares

de Detenidos-Desaparecidos (FEDEFAM) or the Latin American Federation of Associations of

Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees, who has pioneered and championed the cause of the

disappeared since 1981 and who had initiated this commemoration, AFAD gives due respect and

honor to the desaparecidos. In their struggle for a better world, the victims were brutally made to

disappear and must have been killed. Coming from nations large and small, they have the equal

right to life regardless of origin, race, color, religion and political belief. Such is founded on

human rights’ very universality, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Not only are the desaparecidos the sole victims of this human rights violation, but also

their families and their communities, notwithstanding the greater society, which has been

deprived of the desaparecidos’ promising future. For them, unless found alive and well, there is

no more future. The most that society could do is to ferret out the truth, so that one day, justice

and peace shall be realized and that both present and future generations shall be able to savor

the fruits of their struggle.

Asia has been at the forefront of change for the past half a century. Dubbed as having

“the fastest growing region in the world,” Asians have witnessed an array of ambitious political

leaders bent on industrializing societies at lightning-pace at the cost of civil liberties and

fundamental freedoms. Labeled as the national security paradigm during the 1960s and 70s and

later re-dubbed as “Asian values,” industrialization has merely created fragile economies with a

large number of poverty-stricken (and often unlettered) masses suffering beneath an enclave of

an affluent and abusive few. As the people face economic dislocation and social marginalization,

their leaders are mired in corruption, cronyism and nepotism, which are anathema to the speedy

delivery of even the most basic social services such as food, housing, education and medical

care. Hence, the emergence of social movements for societal reform and greater

democratization. Tragically, these struggles have often been suppressed and harassed resulting

in blatant human rights violations, the most atrocious of which is involuntary disappearance.

The myth which many Asian governments want to project that involuntary disappearance

is only a Latin American experience has been shattered through the voices of the families of the

disappeared in Asia collectively united in AFAD.

The gruesome Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 1989 in Beijing, China has

continued to bring unfathomable pains and sufferings to the Mothers of the Tiananmen Massacre

Victims, whose children were plucked out from their lives from the dead of the night like helpless

leaves from a tree. Professor Ding Zilin, who lost her 17 year-old son during the massacre,

portrayed commendable courage and bravery by leading the family members of the victims in

submitting a legal petition to China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate on May 17, 1999

demanding an investigation into Li Peng’s responsibility for the bloodshed. The book, entitled “

The Truth About the Beijing Turmoil mentions of 3,000 civilians wounded and over 200, including

36 university students were killed. Ding Zilin said that for security reasons, her group has

documented only 13 out of about 3,000- 4,000 cases of involuntary disappearances.

In the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, involuntary disappearance has become a normal

phenomenon, with at least 5,000 reported cases for the period 1991-1993 alone. The Indian

government, in its latest pronouncement on July 18, 2002, admitted that in Kashmir, there have

been 3,185 missing persons since 1985. To honor the disappeared, the families of the victims

want to establish a monument, the foundation stone of which was taken by the Indian government

a few hours after the groundbreaking on July 18, 2001. Aggravating the situation is the ingrained

practice of most police personnel to cremate the victims’ remains, thus depriving the families of

the opportunity to ever see the remains of their loved ones again. Moreover, human rights

defenders themselves are victimized.

In Indonesia, while enforced disappearances have been an almost daily occurrence

during Suharto’s “New Order” regime, only 1,148 cases have been documented. While new

cases continue to happen without let-up, proper documentation would still have to be done on the

PKI supporters and sympathizers who were deliberately liquidated in 1965 and dissident ethnic

minorities from Aceh, Irian Jaya and the former province of East Timor. Even with the change of

administration through the assumption of former presidents Habibi and Wahid to power, violence

continued. With President Megawati presently in power, the resolution of past cases is far from

sight and the stop to the on-going violence unimaginable. On the contrary, it has worsened.

Even the office of KontraS, the AFAD member in Indonesia, was raided by more than 500 armed

men who confiscated voluminous organizational files, destroyed office equipment and physically

hurt KontraS’ personnel.

Being splashed in newspapers and magazines is the war between Pakistan and India. In

recent months, this has worsened resulting in wanton transgressions of human rights including

involuntary disappearances. The Human Rights Movement has documented human rights

violations in the area. These include, among others, killings, illegal detention and involuntary

disappearances. The Human Rights Movement, established in 1990 and registered under the

voluntary social welfare agencies registration and control ordinance of 1961, organized some 15

families of the disappeared three years ago. Due to heavy firing across the line of control, a

comprehensive documentation is impossible.

In the Philippines, with the demise of the Marcos dictatorship notwithstanding and the

subsequent restoration of democratic rule, justice still remains elusive for all victims of involuntary

disappearances. 1,778 cases are still pending with no single perpetrator being punished and no

reparation given to the families. 221 have surfaced dead while 305 surfaced alive. During the first

16 months of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration, 13 cases have been

documented. A law penalizing enforced disappearances has yet to see the light of day despite a

decade of lobbying. The test cases pending in court are witnessing the very slow pace of the

judicial system coupled with security problems of the witnesses. No single perpetrator has been

convicted yet.

In the southern part of Sri Lanka, a small country of 18 million people, there are about

60,000 cases of enforced disappearance, one of, if not the largest so far in the entire world. Of

this number, only 16,742 cases have been established and verified while about the same number

of the families and victims have been granted minimal compensation. While the three visits of the

UNWGEID to the country were able to confirm this wanton transgression of human rights, the Sri

Lankan government has yet to implement UNWGEID’s recommendations.

In Thailand, there are 293 cases of disappearances, which occurred during the brutal

suppression of the May 1992 demonstration against Army General-turned-Prime Minister

Suchinda Kraprayoon. Families continue to press the Thai government to disclose the more than

600-paged report about the massacre and reveal the whereabouts of the remains of the victims.

Yet, despite such persevering efforts, the Thai government just opened some sketchy reports of

what happened. While some of the families of the victims have received compensation, still, they

are demanding for the return of their loved ones’ remains for proper cremation and for the

establishment of a monument in honor of the May 1992 heroes. A decade has passed since the

infamous May 1992 event, yet the families of the victims have to see light in their long search for

the truth.

What makes this perfidy more flagrant and abominable is the fact that enforced

disappearance is not confined in Asia alone, but assumes an international character irrespective

of culture, tradition, boundary or locality. The January 8, 2002 report of Mr. Manfred Nowak,

United Nations independent expert in charge of the existing international and human rights

framework for the protection of persons from enforced or involuntary disappearances, pursuant

to a resolution of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, stated: “Over the past

twenty years, the Commission’s thematic Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary

Disappearances has transmitted some 50,000 individual cases of disappearances to

Governments of almost 90 countries in all regions of the world. “

To respond to this international phenomenon, AFAD, in cooperation with FEDEFAM and

many other freedom-loving organizations and individuals, work for the ratification of the United

Nations Draft Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary

Disappearances and conduct international solidarity, lobby and campaign work to combat

impunity.

On this occasion, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances firmly

renews its resolve neither to forget the past nor allow the same thing to happen again. Never

again!

Signed by:

MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO
Secretary-General

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