Int’l advocacy group calls for speedy investigation of enforced disappearances in Asia

Sep. 19, 2014

DAVAO CITY – A Thailand-based international advocacy group is urging governments belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to conduct speedy investigations into cases of enforced disappearances “to bring an immediate end to enforced disappearances and ensure justice for the victims and their families.”

“If Asean wants to be seen as a credible and mature regional body in the eyes of the world then it should refrain from using the policy of non-interference as an excuse to ignore the worsening human rights situation in the region,” the Solidarity for Asian Peoples Advocacy (SAPA), a network of NGOs and human rights organizations founded in Thailand, said in a statement.

It said the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights should “stop ignoring these cases and launch investigations to ferret out the truth about the cases of enforced disappearance in  Asean,” it said in its August 2014 report.

SAPA noted that “enforced disappearance continues to be used across the world and that it is significantly underreported due to institutionalized systems of impunity, a practice of silence and restrictions on the work of civil society and threats, intimidation and reprisals against victims of enforced disappearance, including family members, witnesses and human rights defenders.”

Political advocacy groups use the word enforced disappearance to refer to instances when persons espousing political advocacy and opinions against government agencies and instrumentalities would disappear without trace, usually following witnesses accounts or complaints from victims that they were trailed by armed men believed to be government security elements.

The group said that despite the alarming cases of enforced disappearances, “there is inaction and appropriate responses from the governments in the region”.

“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.”

In the Philippines, the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) documented 21 cases of enforced disappearances from June 2010 to June 2014.

Among the high-profile cases of enforced disappearance are those of Jonas Burgos, son of a former journalist and defender of press freedom, who was abducted at food court of a shopping mall in Quezon City in 2007, and those of University of the Philippines’ students Karen Empeño and Sheryl Cadapan, who were abducted while doing field research work in Bulacan in 2006.

“Despite evidences pointing to the involvement of military personnel in his disappearance, impunity for the perpetrators prevails. Testimonies by witnesses point to the soldiers as abductors and torturers/rapists of the two women,” SAPA noted.

According to SAPA, forced or enforced disappearance is not a new phenomenon in Southeast Asia.

“In Indonesia, a number of political activists were abducted during the turbulent years leading up to the fall of Suharto. In Thailand, it has been nine long years since human rights lawyer Somchai Neelaphaijit went missing. Two days from now it will be the fourth month since Sombath Somphone, or Uncle Bath to the young activists in the region, was abducted. The list goes on and on without end in sight.”

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

“We call on all Asean member governments to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, amend relevant domestic laws in accordance with the convention and ensure the secure access of the victims and their families to truth, justice and remedy,” SAPA said.(

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