Filipina human rights activist wins international prize for work vs enforced disappearances

Filipina human rights activist Mary Aileen D. Bacalso won the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize from the Argentinian Embassy last October 31 “in recognition of her work against enforced disappearance in Asia and the world.”

Nominated by the Embassy of Argentina in Manila, the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances’ (AFAD) secretary general, became the seventh recipient of the award since  its establishment in 2007 by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and Worship.

Bacalso said in an email interview with GMA News Online that the award recognized the legitimacy of the fight against enforced disappearances in the Philippines and the rest of the world.

“It gives encouragement to me, to the families of the disappeared, and to civil society organizations in our common fight for truth, for justice, for reparation, for redress, and guarantees of non-repetition. It is a manifestation of the grim reality that the phenomenon of enforced disappearances has never been erased from the face of the earth,” said Bacalso.

Bacalso will travel to Buenos Aires on December 10 to receive the award and conduct lectures in different organizations on the human rights situation of the AFAD’s nine country members.

The secretary-general of AFAD said the award will go a long way in recognizing the need for universal ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

“My participation in the negotiation and drafting process at the United Nations together with families of the disappeared in other countries, including Argentina, was a concrete example of international solidarity at its best—that bore fruit through the adoption by the UN General Assembly of this international Convention,” said Bacalso.

Her fight against enforced disappearances began when her husband, Edsil Bacalso, was kidnapped in 1988 by the military. While she was able to reclaim him, the trauma she endured moved her to accept the post of secretary-general of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) Philippines.

“The suffering that I underwent during my husband’s disappearance pales in comparison with the sufferings of the families of those who remain disappeared. I have embraced this struggle against enforced disappearances and against impunity with all dedication and commitment… This is a struggle that I have learned to embrace as an integral part of my life,” she said.

Other than their continuing campaign for the international human rights instrument’s ratification, she said AFAD is also working on research and documentation of enforced disappearances in various Asian countries.

However, their psychosocial rehabilitation of families of the victims is limited, due to their finite resources.

Bacalso mentioned that she and her organization are patiently campaigning for the Philippine government to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

“The much-awaited signature has to be followed with a process of ratification of the said treaty. This will certainly complement the present anti-enforced disappearance law which, if fully implemented, will go a long way towards the attainment of our much-cherished dream for a world without disappeared persons,” said Bacalso.