ASIA: Surface the missing, punish the perpetrators, end enforced disappearances

A Joint Press Release by the May 18 Memorial Foundation, Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances, Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance, Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Wife of Sombath Somphone, Human Rights Office and the Asian Legal Resource Centre on the occasion of, 30 August 2018, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances

(Kuala Lumpur, August 30, 2018) Today is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

This day was first commemorated by families of victims of enforced disappearances in Latin America during the founding of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) in San Jose, Costa Rica in 1981. Three decades later, the UN officially recognized this day to pay tribute to thousands of victims of enforced disappearances in the world.

We, the participants of the Regional Conference on Victims of Enforced Disappearances, 2018, in Kuala Lumpur, are thankful we could share stories of the disappeared and the responses of state and civil society actors to their disappearances. A meeting such as this one is an apt way to commemorate the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

The overwhelming conclusion of our conference is that the states in our region continue to treat human rights defenders, community activists and political dissidents with contempt and allow officials of the state to commit extra-judicial acts against them with impunity.

We note that in Korea, many of the persons who went missing after the May 18 democratic uprising have yet to return to their families. It is very important to ascertain the truth of what happened then. The only way to ascertain the truth is to surface missing persons and secret burial sites. The May 18 Truth Unveiling Special Commission should not miss the last opportunity to disclose the truth.

We note that in Laos, nearly six years after the abduction of Sombath Somphone, recorded by police-controlled video cameras, the government of Laos has failed to surface Sombath or to bring anyone to justice, despite international pressure. We urge the government of Laos to treat enforced disappearances and other extra-judicial crimes more seriously.

We note that in Malaysia, the state’s use of extra-judicial actions against foreign nationals and suspects in criminal cases. We note that the abductions of Amri Che Mat, Pastor Raymond Koh, Pastor Joshua Hilmi and his wife Ruth in late 2016 and early 2017 raised public awareness of and concern about abductions. We urge the government to respond to the public clamour and direct the police to assign their best, independent-minded personnel, to bring the perpetrators to justice. We also urge the government to form an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), as stated in Promise 20 of their current manifesto.

We note that in Bangladesh, a few perpetrators of enforced disappearances have been charged, but only one case out of 435 others under the incumbent government has been primarily prosecuted – and that the litigants await final appeal in the Supreme Court. Yet, disregard for human dignity continues unabated. We are shocked that the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has pointed out that enforced disappearances happen in other countries too, and reasons that therefore it is okay. We call for an end to such justification of the arbitrary deprivation of life in the hands of law-enforcement agencies of Bangladesh.

We note that in Indonesia, the National Human Right Commission has conducted a pro justicia investigation and documented and enumerated enforced disappearances. We note that Parliament has recommended to the President to follow through on the settlement of enforced disappearance cases. We regret that the state is still unwilling to be held accountable for enforced disappearances. We are encouraged by the cooperation between civil society groups in Indonesia and Timor Leste which has resulted in some repatriations of forcibly separated children. However we are deeply concerned that alleged perpetrators of enforced disappearances now hold high offices in the government, formally or informally, and are participants in past and future presidential elections.

We note that in the Philippines, though an anti-disappearance law has been promulgated, it is not properly implemented. We commend the Supreme Court for its courageous decisions on disappearance cases, and the Commission on Human Rights for its efforts in exposing the truth. We call upon the government to investigate and prosecute members of the armed forces who have been named as suspects by the Supreme Court and to fully and strictly implement the anti-disappearance law.

We note that in Sri Lanka, persistent campaigning by activists resulted in ratification of the UN Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) and establishment of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) by the government in 2017. We are pleased that in March 2018 the Cabinet approved legislation to criminalize disappearances. However, we note that though a monument was erected by activists to mark the tragic loss of thousands of disappeared persons and the establishment of so many commissions, there is still so much to be revealed about how the state used enforced disappearances during the emergency. We hope the OMP would investigate cases in a transparent and effective manner and that families of the disappeared would finally know the truth.

We call on Asian states – which have the biggest number of cases submitted to the UNWGEID (United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances) – to sign, ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED).

We remind the governments in our region that people have been and continue to be horrified by the use of extra-judicial means such as enforced disappearances to curb dissent. We challenge the nations in our region to compete with each other to take the lead in combating enforced disappearances.


Cheolwoo Lee, May 18 Memorial Foundation, the Republic of Korea

Shui-Meng Ng, Wife of Sombath Somphone, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Thomas Fann, CAGED (Citizens Against Enforced Disappearances), Malaysia

Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, ALRC (Asian Legal Resource Centre), Hong Kong

Yati Andriani, KontraS (Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence), the Republic of Indonesia

Celia Lagman Sevilla, FIND (Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance), the Republic of the Philippines

Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, AFAD (Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances), the Republic of the Philippines

Father Nandana Manatunga, Human Rights Office, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Jayanthi Dandeniya, Human Rights Office, Kandy, Sri Lanka

About Admin

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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