A boy holds the picture of his grandfather who went missing some 20 years ago in Manila. (Photo by Joe Torres)
A group whose core members are families of victims of involuntary disappearances will receive this year's Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award from the Taiwan government.
The award will be given to the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) whose chairman, Kashmiri human rights defender Khurram Parvez, remains in detention in India.
Parvez was arrested while on his way to attend a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Sept. 14.
Mary Aileen Diez Bacalso, AFAD secretary-general, said the recognition given by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy comes at a "very sensitive time" for her organization.
The award-giving body said it recognized the "courage, leadership, and vision" AFAD "brings to the world" in its almost two decades of work on behalf of victims of involuntary disappearances.
AFAD is a federation of 14 member organizations in 10 South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
The organization was instrumental in pushing for the approval of the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances, the enactment in the Philippines of the first domestic law in Asia criminalizing enforced disappearances, the ratification of the Convention by Sri Lanka, and its signing by India, Indonesia and Thailand.
Founded in 1998 in Manila, AFAD facilitates searches for people abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization, and works to ensure the attainment of truth, justice, redress and the reconstruction of the collective memory of the missing.
"AFAD has made indelible contributions in pushing states to address the rights of families of the disappeared and in seeking justice for victims," said Su Jia-chyuan, chairman of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy after the announcement of the winner on Nov. 10.
Bacalso said enforced disappearances continue to be perpetrated in many Asian countries and families continue "to wait for truth and justice to be done."
"Asia has the highest number of cases of enforced disappearances around the world," said Bacalso.
In Kashmir alone some 8,000 young Kashmiri men vanished in the 1990s, most of whom were believed killed and buried in unmarked graves.
Among Asian nations Sri Lanka accounts for 5,676 "reviewed and outstanding" cases of enforced disappearances, 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.
AFAD and its leaders have also experience persecution. Its former president, Indonesian human rights defender Munir, died of arsenic poisoning in 2004.
Bacalso said the organization gets its strength from its members who are actively working on the ground for the protection and promotion of human rights.
"They are facing threats, intimidation, persecution, nonetheless, they continue to stand side by side with family members, giving them all their support," she told ucanews.com.
The award, comes with US$100,000 from the government of Taiwan and is given every year to an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to the advancement of democracy and human rights in Asia.
Previous recipients of the award include Reporters Without Borders, Rescue Foundation of India, End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes International, as well as Kim Seong-min, founder and director of Free North Korea Radio.
The award ceremony takes place on Dec. 10, International Human Rights Day.
"This award will give new strength to our struggle and will help in pursuing our vision of a world without desaparecidos [the disappeared]," said Bacalso.