Every last week of May, the families of the disappeared and human rights advocates around the world join together in commemorating the International Week of the Disappeared. Here in the Philippines, from May 29 to June 4 this year, we remember and honor all the desaparecidos who were snatched from the bosom of their families and society and made to suffer the unknown ordeal. Their memories live on in our hearts and minds.
The International Week of the Disappeared which began as a local tide of protest of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) more than three decades ago eventually grew into a global tidal wave against the abominable practice of enforced disappearance even as it is an expression of international solidarity for the disappeared and their families. Our continuing observance of this occasion reflects the continuing character of enforced disappearance as much as it mirrors the unabated commission of this state-perpetrated heinous offense.
Cases upon cases from the past to the present remain unresolved. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (UNWGEID), in its 2010 Annual Report, attests that enforced disappearance is a major human rights concern of 83 countries. Asia, which has no strong regional mechanisms for redress and no domestic laws penalizing disappearance as a separate and autonomous criminal offense, is the continent with the highest number of cases.
Enforced disappearance is a grim reality in the Philippines. Families of the disappeared continue to search and wait for their disappeared loved ones. The persistence of disappearances in the country speaks of how pervasive this odious problem has been and continues to be. The Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) as of May 2011 has documented 1,820 out of 2,160 victims of disappearance from the dark years of martial law up to the present administration. Seven victims have been reported under the present Aquino administration. This only proves that the commission of enforced disappearance persists with impunity.
As the human rights situation remains critical and uncertain, the surviving victims and families turned human rights defenders refuse to passively await justice. They have kept the memory of their disappeared loved ones alive by steadfastly searching for them, vigorously demanding the truth from their own governments and tirelessly working towards guarantees of non-repetition.
Despite efforts to combat impunity of this global scourge at the national and international levels, much ought to be done to eradicate it from the face of the earth. One concrete measure is to compel all governments to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. This Convention, which provides for the right to truth and the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearance, was adopted in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly and entered into force on 23 December 2010. To date, this international human rights instrument has 88 signatories and 26 States parties. It is equally important for States to penalize enforced disappearance in their statute books as mandated by the Convention. The Philippines is not yet a signatory much less a State party to this Convention.
We therefore urge President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to fulfill the government’s voluntary pledges and commitments submitted to the UN Human Rights Council as early as 2007 by signing this treaty and endorsing the immediate passage of an anti-disappearance law as concrete steps towards realizing his promise of “providing truth and complete justice for all.” The President being a son of a human rights victim himself should be more acutely aware of his responsibility to resolve the past and present human rights violations and prevent further transgressions. He even claimed during his inauguration that “when we allow crimes to go unpunished, we give consent to their occurring over and over again”. It is about time for him to walk the talk. This, he owes to the Filipino people whom he considers to be his boss.
As we pay tribute to all desaparecidos, we pledge our staunch commitment to relentlessly pursue the search for the truth, to bring individual perpetrators to justice and hold the State accountable, and to redeem the dignity of the victims and their families.
Our dear desaparecidos may not be physically present with us but they are definitely not forgotten. Their memories always emit a glimmer of hope and rekindle our spirit to dream and sustain our collective struggle to make the inhuman offense of enforced disappearance finally disappear.
ASIAN FEDERATION AGAINST INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCES (AFAD)
FAMILIES OF VICTIMS OF INVOLUNTARY DISAPPEARANCE (FIND)