A boy holds a picture of his grandfather who went missing some 20 years ago during a meeting of families of victims of enforced disappearance in Manila on Thursday (Photo by Joe Torres)
Families across Asia continue to await information about loved ones who have been forcibly disappeared while thousands of such individuals languish in unknown prisons around the region.
"Asia has the most number of cases of enforced disappearances around the world," said Mary Aileen Bacalso, secretary general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD), on the occasion of this year's observance of the International Week of the Disappeared.
Bacalso said that in Kashmir alone some 8,000 young men vanished in the 1990s, most of whom are believed to be buried in unmarked graves.
Among Asian nations, Sri Lanka accounts for 5,676 "reviewed and outstanding" cases of enforced disappearances, while Nepal has 458, Timor-Leste has 428, India has 353, Indonesia has 162, Pakistan has 99, Thailand has 71, China has 30 and North Korea has 20.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg because people are not reporting for fear of reprisals from authorities," said Bacalso.
A total of 43,250 cases of enforced disappearance in 88 countries were under active consideration by the United Nations as of 2014.
In the Philippines, some 2,300 people remain missing since the 1970s when martial law was declared in the country.
In the past five years, 26 people were reported to have gone missing in the Philippines, which is the first country in Asia to enact an anti-enforced disappearance law, although no perpetrator has been convicted under the law.
Human rights groups in Manila on Thursday called on governments around Asia to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPED).
"In a country plagued by impunity and a weak justice system, it is imperative that we ratify the [ICPED] as it will complement our domestic law," said Nilda Sevilla, head of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND).
She said the ratification of ICPED by Asian countries would ultimately strengthen legal protections against enforced disappearances.
The ICPED was adopted in December 2006 and came into force on December 23, 2010. The convention mandates that each state party has the duty to ensure that enforced disappearances constitutes an offense under the country’s criminal law.
The convention now has 94 signatories and 46 state parties, which means 48 states have not implemented the ICPED in their domestic legal systems.
Bacalso said Cambodia is the only state party in Southeast Asia.
She added that "the biggest problem" in monitoring disappearance cases is that governments frequently deny that the trend even exists.