THE UNWGEID: THE FAMILIES’ PERSPECTIVE
By Mary Aileen D. Bacalso
Secretary-General, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD)
On behalf of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances and the Asian Legal Resource Center, whose delegation I represent today, may I have the honor to congratulate the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) for their excellent work during the last thirty years in helping families of the disappeared to reclaim the stolen lives of the world’s desaparecidos. Without your humanitarian work, in helping organizations of families and NGOs involved in this unspeakably cruel form of human rights violation, the number of lives lost from enforced or involuntary disappearance would have been immeasurably greater.
I remember vividly, twenty-two years ago on 17 November 1988, exactly two months after I got married, my husband was disappeared in broad daylight in Cebu City, the Philippines’ second largest city. Our families expended all their energy to search for him alive. I went to military camps to confront military authorities, went to suspected detention houses, and I filed reports to the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines and Amnesty International, both of which submitted the case to the UNWGEID. Eventually after long days of search for my husband, having been physically and psychologically tortured, he was released in a cemetery close to his parents’ house. A co-disappeared who had been starved by his captors for three months, escaped when his hands became so thin that he could pull off his handcuffs. This person told me of my husband’s whereabouts, and with this information we confronted the military authorities who feared that the escapee might testify in court. Simultaneously with our efforts at the local level, Amnesty International and the UNWGEID applied pressure by bringing the case before the Philippine government. I attribute the release of my husband to the combination of local and international work in searching for him and bringing him home alive. My husband’s case is only one of the many concrete examples of successful interventions of the Working Group in saving lives. For this and for your continuing work to help desaparecidos the world-over, may I express my unending gratitude.
Considering that during the last thirty years you have dealt with 50,000 cases in 80 countries in every corner of the world, just one single successful intervention, multiplied a thousandfold, is an indication of your importance as a key body of the United Nations. Moreover your untiring efforts to deal with the Governments concerned have undoubtedly prevented further loss of lives, although perhaps this cannot be quantified. We believe that this has been made possible through the indelible memory of the desaparecidos which continues to guide you in your work. With your ability to listen, with your mind and heart open to the cry of the suffering families, the last thirty years exercising your humanitarian mandate to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the desaparecidos has resulted in immeasurable success.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances looks forward to the day when our existence as well as yours will no longer be needed, when we shall witness the dawning of a world without desaparecidos. Realistically however, the dark night of the disappeared is still here, the long list of names of desaparecidos continues, whose lives have been treacherously stolen from their families and from the society where they belong. The endless suffering of the families of the disappeared and their unyielding cry for truth, for justice, for redress and for the reconstruction of the historical memory of their beloved desaparecidos compel you to join arms with us in our never-ending fight towards a world free from enforced disappearances.
Much remains to be done. To date, your latest report speaks of 52,232 cases transmitted since your inception, 42,600 of which remain unclarified and these concern 82 States. Thus, it is important to consolidate the gains of the last thirty years while facing the challenges of an ever-increasing number of cases reported daily to your office.
I should like to take this opportunity to mention the major accomplishment we jointly achieved in our work – notably the adoption by the General Assembly of the UN of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on 20 December 2006. This major accomplishment in preventing the crime of enforced disappearance and in the fight against impunity is worth celebrating as we enter the next stage of our struggle, as this important international treaty will soon enter into force. With its roots in the pain of the families of the disappeared in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa and in the rest of the world, and whose drafting and negotiation process would never have been made possible without the strong commitment and diplomatic skill of the late His Excellency French Ambassador Bernard Kessedjian, this Convention is an immense step towards creating a political atmosphere of respect for the new right NOT to be subjected to enforced disappearance. Moreover its strong provisions of truth, justice, redress, reparation and memory will go a long way towards non-repetition of the crime. With 18 ratifications already and a further 81 signatures, the Convention will hopefully enter into force during the first half of this year 2010. Together with you, we use our collective voice in addressing all governments to sign and ratify this important international treaty which will surely help to realize the slogan of our sisters and brothers of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) and repeated by the rest of the families of the disappeared throughout the world: “Nunca Mas.” Never Again.
On this your commemoration of your 30th anniversary, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, the Asian Legal Resource Center and the rest of the international movement against enforced disappearances pledge our allegiance, in joining hands with you, to find the disappeared whose memory shall never ever be extinguished.
Thank you very much.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in April 25th 2010