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Remembering the disappeared

There should be no let-up in the struggle to end the scourge of enforced disappearances

 Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Updated: August 30, 2019 05:05 AM GMT
Remembering the disappeared

Photographs of "desaparecidos" are displayed in a park in Manila during a demonstration calling for justice for victims of involuntary disappearances. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

The world is supposed to mark Aug. 30 as the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

In a world where the sanctity of life is supposedly respected, some 57,891 people, according to the United Nations, have fallen victims of enforced disappearances since 1980.

With an estimated 60,000 cases occurring in Sri Lanka alone, the U.N. figures obviously reflect under-reporting.  

A life lost due to enforced disappearance is worse enough, and the devastation it causes to the family is irreparable.

Asia is the region that has submitted the highest number of enforced disappearance cases to the U.N. in the past two decades.  
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The Philippines has the highest number of cases submitted from Southeast Asia. The Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the U.N. in Geneva has sought the de-listing of 625 cases that mostly occurred during the years of the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s and the early 1980s.

Families of the disappeared all over the world have already united and formed themselves into associations to amplify their collective voices.

Their persistence has moved the U.N. to adopt an international treaty on enforced disappearances that provides, among others, the right to truth and the right not to be subjected to them.

The Philippines, which supposedly has an anti-enforced disappearance law and whose many provisions are compatible with the treaty, refuses to be a party to it.

Every year, the stories of those who have gone missing continue to be shared.
Maria Adela Antokoletz of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo-Linea Fundadora in Argentina still recalls the disappearance of his brother Daniel more than 40 years ago.

"I vividly remember my only brother, Daniel, a desaparecido. I want him to be at my side so I can embrace him and tell him stories," she said.

"My memory goes vertically straight to my heart and horizontally, too, to embrace those who are definitely part of my life," added Adela.

Amina Masood, wife of disappeared Masood Ahmed Janjua, said the annual observance has become an occasion "when I can put pressure on the power corridors and tell them in a screaming way that I do not accept the disappearance of my loving husband."

"I am knocking at the world’s conscience that no matter what, I can die but cannot give up hope to find him," said Amina, whose husband was disappeared in Pakistan on July 30, 2005.

Life cycle starts with birth, followed with infancy, childhood, adulthood, old age, and death. But in cases of enforced disappearances, regardless of the victim’s age, the cycle is disrupted.

There is a huge possibility of death, but without proof and with the absence of closure, it has become so cruel, so inhuman, and un-Christian.

The states’ inhumanity is manifested, among many different ways, in using such a tool to terrorize not only the victims’ families but also society.

Historically an instrument of military dictatorships, enforced disappearance is perpetrated in internal conflicts, struggle for independence, war on terror, war on drugs, and in some situations, committed in the context of migration.

This is a potent form of harassment against victims, human rights defenders, and organizations.

During Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines in 2015, he gave a special prayer to the disappeared, a reality that also exists in his beloved Argentina.

The best and the brightest in the pope's homeland were made to disappear at the height of the military dictatorship in the 1970s.

In the Philippines, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has gained notoriety in recent months after several states voted for a U.N. resolution that aims to investigate the wave of killings and other human rights violations in the country.

The government dismissed the allegations as an infringement on the country's sovereignty.

Its 3-year-old war on drugs, however, resulted in nameless, undocumented desaparecidos who are added to the litany of names that the government proposed to de-list from the U.N.

The best tribute the world can pay to the disappeared today is to struggle for the non-repetition of enforced disappearances.  

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is former secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the victims of enforced disappearances, the Argentine Government awarded her the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.

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