Your letters: Justice for victims of disappearances

Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacies (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN on Sept. 5 called on ASEAN to uphold human rights and investigate cases of enforced disappearances.

Readers Forum | Tue, September 09 2014, 11:18 AM

Solidarity for Asian People’s Advocacies (SAPA) Working Group on ASEAN on Sept. 5 called on ASEAN to uphold human rights and investigate cases of enforced disappearances.

Aug. 30 marked the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance.

In solidarity with the victims and families of those who have disappeared, the SAPA Working Group on ASEAN urges ASEAN governments to bring an immediate end to enforced disappearances and ensure justice for the victims and their families.

Enforced or involuntary disappearance is one of the most heinous violations of human rights, akin to torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.

When in captivity, victims of enforced disappearance are frequently subjected to violent and degrading treatment or torture and live day by day in a state of hopeless fear, aware that their families do not know where they are and that normal legal protections are not available to them.

The families of the victims suffer tremendous mental anguish, not knowing the conditions of their loved ones or even whether they are alive or dead. Enforced disappearance is also used as a weapon to spread fear in society and to silence those who raise questions about human rights violations.

Fear and insecurity among families and acquaintances of the disappeared make it difficult to accurately document cases of enforced disappearance, as well as to gather crucial evidence to ensure the safe return of the victims and the punishment of the perpetrators.

Enforced disappearances have been happening in the ASEAN region for several decades, under military dictatorships, in situations of territorial and natural resource conflicts and in so-called democracies, where victims are perceived to be threats to those in political power. In the majority of known cases of enforced disappearance, the lack of meaningful investigation and progress in delivering justice to victims and their families indicates the continuing impunity of the perpetrators.

In Laos and Myanmar, enforced disappearances are especially difficult to track. On Jan. 23, 2007, Sompawn Khantisouk, an eco-tourism business owner in the capital of Luang Nam Tha province in Laos, was abducted in broad daylight by people in police uniforms.

Appeals by his family to government authorities to investigate the disappearance yielded no positive results and Shompawn’s family soon retreated into fearful silence.

In the Philippines, more than 20 persons have been disappeared because of their political beliefs and involvement under the current government. During the time of the previous government, Jonas Burgos, son of a respected former journalist and defender of press freedom, was abducted at the food court of a shopping mall in Quezon City in 2007.

In light of the seeming inaction and lack of appropriate responses from governments in the region in the abovementioned cases of enforced disappearance, the SAPA Working Group on ASEAN is urging ASEAN to show its commitment to human rights and uphold Article 7 of the charter, which states that one of its purposes is to “promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Shalmalli Guttal