Joint Statement on the International Day of the Disappeared: The Importance of Eliminating Enforced Disappearance Practices in Asia

Asia Alliance Against Torture
August 30, 2021


Today, on the occasion of International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Asia Alliance Against Torture (A3T) condemns the practice of enforced disappearances that continues to occur in Asia. It is a cruel practice that perpetuates impunity, where the government shows no political will to investigate and solve cases of enforced disappearance. Marking today’s annual commemoration of the Day of the Disappeared, the A3T would like to highlight the importance of eliminating enforced disappearance practices in Asia.

First, it is essential to acknowledge that enforced disappearances violate the person’s right to liberty and security and the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Disappearance is a doubly paralyzing form of suffering: for the victims, frequently tortured and in constant fear for their lives, and for their family members, ignorant of the fate of their loved ones, their emotions alternating between hope and despair, wondering and waiting, sometimes for years, for news that may never come. Supposing death is not the outcome. They are eventually released from the nightmare; in that case, the victims suffer a long time from the physical and psychological consequences of this form of dehumanization and from the brutality and torture that often accompany it.

The family and friends of disappeared persons experience slow mental torture, not knowing whether the victim is still alive and, if so, where they are being held, under what conditions, and in what state of health. The family’s distress is frequently compounded by the material consequences resulting from the disappearance. The missing person is often the mainstay of the family’s finances. The victims’ family has to adapt to the new situation, wherein national legislation may make it impossible to transfer property ownership, receive pensions, or other means of support without a certificate of death. Economic and social marginalization are frequently the result.

Second, even though many countries in Asia have not ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED), the obligation to prevent enforced disappearances is a peremptory norm. Hence, the states must do complete justice and provide reparations in enforced disappearances cases in their jurisdiction. This responsibility stems from customary international law according to Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (ARSIWA)’s codification.

Yet, it is still unfortunate that thousands of people remain victims in Asia. Investigations have not been conducted, and the victims’ whereabouts remain unknown. The victims and their families still suffer from past wounds, and no full reparation is guaranteed. For example, in Indonesia, two Papuans were kidnapped by the military in April 2020, and the family never knew their whereabouts until the Military Police Commander held a press conference stating that the victims had been arrested on suspicion that they were members of an armed criminal group; and that they were interrogated and tortured to death. Nevertheless, the case of thirteen victims of enforced disappearances in 1997-1998 remains in the dark. No perpetrators have been fairly sentenced in the court, and no family has received any full reparation. In other countries, it is a similar situation where enforced disappearances continued in Bangladesh amid the COVID-19 pandemic, targeting dissenting voices critical of the government’s repressive policies and actions. The denial by the Bangladeshi authority of its continued practice of enforced disappearance and its unwillingness to take any action to address this severe crime deserves condemnation. In addition, many families and relatives of the disappeared have faced threats and harassment by law enforcement agencies and ruling party members for speaking out about the disappearance of their family members in public.

In the Philippines, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act (Republic Act No. 10353) criminalizes enforced disappearance in 2012. Despite the existence of the law, however, many believe that enforced disappearances continue to happen. According to the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND), they have been documented 23 victims since Pres. Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016. Reported cases of enforced disappearances remain unresolved and continue unabated with many undocumented drug-related cases when Duterte has carried out a “war on drugs.”In Nepal, more than 3000 people were forcefully disappeared between 1996 to 2006; however, the Commission formed to investigate these cases has not solved a single case in the last six years. At the same time, in Thailand, 90 people have fallen victim to enforced disappearances since 1980. There could be many more, yet, enforced disappearance is not illegal under Thai law, and police investigations are often feeble given the status of the alleged perpetrators. 

The lack of reparation for enforced disappearances cases indicates the state’s unwillingness to settle the past enforced disappearance cases. In Asia, the enforced disappearance is not something new. From the past, it has been systematically used by the state to suppress opposition and terrorize society. The political condition in the past often forced the state to oppress any disturbance without fulfilling its responsibility afterward. The existing challenges of the families of the disappeared and human rights defenders working to support the struggle of these families have increased with the COVID-19 pandemic. The limited democratic space further narrowed as restrictions on the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and other fundamental legal guarantees are implemented in the guise of mitigating measures on COVID-19. The impunity for enforced disappearance becomes a phenomenon in Asia. The states that have ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPPED) are the same in impunity as the states have not ratified the convention. Both are still violating human rights at the same time.

Hence, A3T urges the states in Asia to:

  1. Fully respect the rule of law regarding human rights and the prohibition against enforced disappearance;
  2. Impartially investigate the past and recent cases of enforced disappearance, and bring those responsible to justice with appropriate penalties, which take into account of the offense’s extreme seriousness;
  3. Effectively provide fair, accessible protection for the rights of the victims and their families;
  4. Adequately protect human rights defenders, activists, and academics seeking accountability and responsibility for enforced disappearances.
  5. Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).

No one should be subjected to enforced disappearance!