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January-February 2011
Vol. 36, No. 1

Asia: Human rights protection enacted

In December, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance entered into force when Iraq became the 20th country to ratify the document. The Convention is a legally-binding instrument protecting people from enforced disappearances and establishing the right of everyone not to be subjected to this crime. It provides that enforced disappearance constitutes an international crime and, when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, is considered a crime against humanity. The following article is from the Asia Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD).

Despite the voluntary pledge of the Philippine government before the UN Human Rights Council in 2007 [to sign the document], the Philippines is neither among the signatories nor the States Parties. The Convention is particularly relevant to the Philippine situation, where, since the dark years of the Marcos regime, enforced disappearances remain unresolved and continue to occur.

[More than 300] cases were reported to the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) while 209 cases had been documented by Karapatan during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Three new cases have been documented and another one reported to FIND under the present Aquino administration. These are not mere numbers, but they encompass the violation of multiple human rights of the disappeared, of his or her family and, ultimately, of the society as a whole.

According to the Convention, each State Party shall codify enforced disappearance as an autonomous offense under its criminal law and punish it by appropriate penalties which take into account its extreme seriousness. However, in the Philippines, as in any other Asian country, there is no domestic law criminalizing all instances of enforced disappearance. …

The Convention is the UN’s response to a global phenomenon, which, according to the 2009 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, occurs in 100 countries of the world, 27 of which are Asian. Asia is the continent from which the highest number of cases was reported to the said Working Group.

The imperative of the Convention’s ratification by as many States as possible and its universal implementation can be gleaned, among others, from the sad reality that the AFAD continues to learn from its member-organizations in other Asian countries.

… In Timor Leste, the 24-year occupation [by] Indonesia resulted in untold violations of human rights, including enforced disappearance. In Indonesia, the 1965 massacre against members of the Communist Party of Indonesia, labelled as enemies of the state, resulted in the victimization of many civilians. Further, more people were victimized by enforced disappearance during and immediately after the fall of the 32 years of the Suharto dictatorship. In Nepal, the 10-year internal conflict left 10,000 disappeared. … In Thailand, while cases of disappearances in 1992 remain unresolved, recent cases occurred especially in the south, including that of human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit.

In all the mentioned countries, relatives of the disappeared continue to suffer and, at the same time, to struggle to establish the truth, to obtain justice and redress and to reconstruct the historical memory of their beloved desaparecidos. This dark phenomenon of disappearances urges states to provide protection to all persons from this heinous crime by signing and ratifying the Convention.

As AFAD celebrates this especially glorious day in the struggle against enforced disappearance through the entry into force of the Convention, it joins the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED) to call for more signatures and ratifications from governments of Asia and of the rest of the world.

The AFAD, being based in the Philippines, especially calls on the administration of President Benigno Aquino III to respond to the cry of the families of the disappeared by putting a stop to the phenomenon of enforced disappearance and fulfilling the Philippines’ pledge as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to sign and ratify the Convention without further delay.

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