The Right to Defend Human Rights
AFAD Statement on Commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has rights. Defending one’s rights and that of others is in itself a right as well as an obligation. This is the life-preserving message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted on 10 December 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly in response to the horrors of the past. This document has become a basic foundation for building a just, peaceful and humane world.
Sixty-two years since its adoption, its message remains relevant as human rights violations continue unabated in all nooks and cronies of the world. Millions of people all over the world are relentlessly made to suffer from the curtailment of their basic right to life and liberty.
Enforced disappearance is one of the gravest forms, if not the gravest of human rights violations ever known in history. It is a deprivation of life and freedom and a furtive manner of taking away a person without a trace. Its traumatic effects undoubtedly extend to the victims’ next of kin as it produces severe anguish of not knowing the fates and whereabouts of the victims because of the continuous refusal of the state to acknowledge the disappearance of the person. Especially in the context of poverty in many Third World countries and where most of those who were made to disappear were men, the sufferings of the victims’ families are aggravated by economic hardship brought about by the sudden loss of breadwinners.
Since the period when enforced disappearances were first committed on a gross and systematic scale by Nazi Germany during the 2nd World War under the Nacht und Nebel Erlass (Night and Fog Decree), lamentably, enforced disappearance persists in many countries the world over. It then spreads throughout the globe, first in Latin America in the 70s under the iron hands of military regimes and later became evident in many other countries. It is used as the most convenient tool of states to quell dissent and eliminate political opposition.
Precisely due to its seriousness, it is considered a crime against humanity under international law. The adoption of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and its entry into force on 23 December 2010 following the deposit of the instrument of ratification by Iraq is a strong global response to end the phenomenon of enforced disappearance.
The Convention is a concrete legal measure, which when put in place and complemented with domestic legislation, can be an effective tool to help strengthen governments’ capacities to prevent disappearances, punish the perpetrators and provide justice and redress to victims and their families.
While Asia is the continent which has the highest cases of disappearances reported in recent years to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance (UNWGEID), most Asian countries are not yet signatories and parties to this very important human rights treaty. Enforced disappearance is continuously carried out in this region with impunity allowing perpetrators to escape accountability while victims and their families continue to suffer from the lack of mechanisms for redress.
Today, as we commemorate the International Human Rights Day, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) once again strongly urge all Asian governments to promote, protect and fulfill the Asian peoples’ fundamental rights by signing and ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. By doing so, they can contribute in making human rights a reality in the region where there is no law combating enforced disappearance and a strong regional mechanism for human rights protection.
Today, we also pay tribute to the great men and women who treaded the arduous path in defense of human rights and had sacrificed their lives for the cause of the disappeared and all other victims of human rights violations. They will always serve as our inspiration to continue working for and defending human rights at all cost. By following their example, we recognize that defending human rights is not simply a choice but a mission for all humanity.
Signed and authenticated by:
MARY AILEEN BACALSO