PRESENTATION BEFORE THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE U.S. CONGRESS, Washington D.C.
BEFORE THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
OF THE U.S. CONGRESS, Washington D.C.
Mary Aileen D. Bacalso
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
and International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances
23 June 2011
Honorable Members of the US Congress, torture survivors, ladies and gentlemen: I am Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Secretary General of the Philippine-based Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), the Focal Point of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED). May I express my most profound gratitude to the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) and for the US Congress for this opportunity to testify before you about the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Asia, a very cruel form of torture.
Enforced disappearance has three constitute elements: 1. the deprivation of liberty in any form; 2. State responsibility or, at least, complicity, and 3. refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty of concealment of all information on the victim.
The disappeared persons are being deprived of life and liberty and from the protection of the law, coupled by the untold sufferings of their families and relatives. It is a crime not only against the direct victims but also to their families and the greater society.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID), in its 2010 report, received the highest number of cases from the Asia.
In Timor Leste, approximately 186,000 to 250,000 people died and made to disappear during the Indonesian occupation based on report of the Truth, Reparation and Reconciliation Commission of Timor-Leste, entitled, “Chega!” Despite the 1999 independence from Indonesia, both the Indonesian and Timor Leste governments have continually ignored the cry of the survivors for justice.
In Kashmir, India, survivors suffer emotional and psychological trauma worsened by stigmatization by society and the economic dislocation because of the disappearance of their loved ones. They are among the 8,000 people who disappeared in this paradise lost since the onset of armed conflict across the state in 1989.
The International Tribunal for Justice and Human Rights assisted by the Association of Parents of the Disappeared Persons (APDP) has found more or less 2, 900 unmarked graves in cemeteries of 18 villages near the Line of Control, dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan. India has still to officially respond to the report on the said mass graves, entitled “ Buried Evidence” presented to the Indian government on 2 December 2009.
In Bangladesh, large numbers of disappearances took place
during the country’s liberation war in 1971. It continued even after the independence. It has re-emerged in recent years, thus, the need to reverse this immediately, otherwise, it could herald the onset of yet another serious trend.
In Indonesia, human rights organizations such as the Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and the Indonesian Association of Families of the Disappeared (IKOHI) have documented about 3,000 cases. However, only those cases that occurred prior to the fall of Suharto in 1997-1998 have been subjected to investigation by the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). After their submission in 2006, the Attorney General has not made any investigation and prosecution before the Human Rights Court. It was only in 2009 that the Commission on Inquiry of the Disappearances that is investigating the case of 13 Indonesian activists of 1997 -1998 and made recommendations which remain to be fully implemented.
In Nepal, hundreds of enforced disappearances took place during the ten- year conflict between the government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), which ended in 2006 by both parties signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. However, the cases of disappearance remain unresolved. The UN WGEID visited the country three times already. In its 2004 visit, Nepal became the top in the list of countries that submitted the highest number of cases to the UN WGEID.
In Pakistan, thousands of persons have been subjected to enforced disappearance, mostly from Balochistan province and from the North Western Frontier Province, Sindh and Punjab. Still, as a result of the constant protests and petitions in courts by families of the disappeared, and with the clear resolve on the part of the Supreme Court in issuing orders to the military to produce the detainees before the courts, the government has finally acknowledged the custody of dozens of alleged terror suspects, but in most cases, the intelligence agencies continue to defy these judicial orders in the name of national security.
In the Philippines, more than 2,000 people are victims of enforced disappearance since the dark days of martial law up to the present. Disappearances are mostly carried out as a result of the counter-insurgency operations of the government against the communist and secessionist groups. Although, the number of cases of disappearances had dropped significantly after February 2007 following the visit of Mr. Philip Alston, then UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Execution to the country, the political persecution against known progressive and opposition leaders by slapping them with trumped-up criminal charges, continues unabated.
In Sri Lanka, the government, under the leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was campaigning against disappearances when in the opposition, is now considered as a perpetrator of enforced disappearances. Without resolving the cases of 1989-1991, Sri Lanka is again marred by very recent cases of enforced disappearances. There are hundreds of men and women whose loved ones disappeared only a year, many of them are from the north of the country.
In Thailand, on 11 March 2011, the eve of the 7th anniversary of the disappearance of human rights lawyer, Somchai Neelaphaijit, the Court of Appeals issued a judgment to dismiss all police defendants on the case on the basis of lack of evidence. With this decision, the victim’s family has been denied the right to appeal to the Supreme Court as a co-plaintiff. This case represents the many other unresolved cases of enforced disappearances including those who disappeared during the 1992 Black May massacre.
The United Nations adopted in December 2006 the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance which considers enforced disappearance a continuing crime and which provides, among other things, the right to truth and the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearances. It has been signed by 88 States and ratified by 27 among which, only 3 are Asian States. Significant to note is that the US Government has not yet signed and ratified this important treaty.
Majority of the Asian governments continue to use enforced disappearances and various forms of torture, unfortunately by law enforcement officials and security forces to maintain the so-called peace and order. These happen with complete impunity and many Asian governments have still to ratify the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading and its Optional Protocol. Those which have ratified still need to enact domestic laws that criminalize torture and ensure their implementation.
Honorable Members of the US Congress, survivors, friends, ladies and gentlemen, more than a couple of decades ago, my husband was tortured and made to disappear by the Military Intelligence Group in the Philippines and like many of you here, he survived. More than 20 years later, torture still continues in our supposedly civilized world.
May I conclude by calling on all governments to support international treaties such as the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading and its Optional Protocol. I particularly call on the US government to sign and ratify without further delay the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Doing so would give a good example to other States and will go a long way toward the eradication of enforced disappearances and any form of torture from the face of the earth.
STOP TORTURE NOW.
Thank you very much.