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Philippine Government Urged to Sign and Ratify Convention on Enforced Disappearances

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In celebration of the International Week of Disappeared People, FORUM-ASIA urges the Philippine government to sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
FORUM-ASIA celebrated last week’s International Week of Disappeared People by urging the Philippine government to sign the International Convention for the Protection of all People from Enforced Disappearance. The United Nations Educational Scientific Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed the last week of May as the International Week of the Disappeared.  This is an effort to draw attention to the thousands of people around the world who have been abducted, seized, or imprisoned without the knowledge of or recourse to their families and legal assistance.  The right against enforced disappearance is provided in the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The Convention on Enforced Disappearance was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 December 2006 and opened for signature on 6 February 2007.  Only 57 states have signed and all of these states have yet to ratify the treaty.  The treaty will come into force when it has been ratified by at least 20 states-parties.  The government of the Philippines has yet to sign this treaty.

The Philippine government has come under fire in the recent years for the growing number of disappearances of alleged left-leaning activists and community organizers.  The most recent disappearance is that of Jonas Burgos on 28 April 2007.  Jonas Burgos was an active organizer of farmers groups in the Central Luzon area. On the day he disappeared, Jonas Burgos was on his way home for a family gathering, when a group of four armed men reportedly forced him into a waiting minivan. The abduction took place at around 1 o’clock in the afternoon.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been accused by human rights groups of being behind the abduction. However, the AFP denies the allegation.  Police authorities in the Philippines have started an investigation, but there has been no progress so far.

“There is no law in the Philippines punishing perpetrators of enforced disappearances. The Convention on Enforced Disappearance is therefore of utmost importance,” noted Anselmo Lee, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA. He further added, “This can be a tool to combat the kind of impunity prevalent in the Philippines today on disappearances.”

FORUM-ASIA has been closely following cases of disappearances in the region. One such case is that of Somchai Neelaphaijit, a human rights lawyer from Thailand who was abducted on 12 March 2004.  Somchai had openly accused the police authorities of torturing prisoners being held under extended detention without a charge.  He had also initiated a signature campaign for submission to parliament in order to have martial law lifted in the south of Thailand. The search for Somchai continues to this day.

“Enforced disappearance” is defined under the convention as “the arrest, detention, abduction, or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”  Article 6 of the convention further defines the widespread or systematic use of enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity.