French Ambassador Nicolas Galey and German Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel award Mary Aileen Bacalso the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law in December 12.
Embassy of France to the Philippines, Release
France, Germany give rights prize to activist vs enforced disappearances
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - December 16, 2019 - 5:13pm

MANILA, Philippines — An advocate for protection against involuntary disappearances won a human rights award from the governments of France and Germany for helping victims of enforced disappearances and their families and mobilizing actors on the issue.

Mary Aileen Bacalso, former secretary-general of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances, was one of the 15 recipients of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law around the world.

The French and German governments jointly nominated Bacalso for her work in lobbying for actions against enforced disappearances not just in the Philippines but also on global scale and providing assistance to victims of involuntary disappearances and their families.  

In her acceptance speech, Bacalso said the award gives visibility to the struggle against involuntary disappearances and other human rights violations.

“The pain of losing loved ones manifested in anxiety, fear, uncertainty, family disintegration, absence of closure is excruciating,” the former co-chairperson of the Philippine-based Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance said.

She added: “Despite this, many families of the disappeared have transcended from their state of victimization and have metamorphosed from victims into human rights defenders. They leave no stone unturned to search for their loved ones and to struggle for truth and justice.”

Bacalso’s husband disappeared in 1988 at the height of the government's anti-insurgency campaign. He was heavily tortured during detention and was later released.

According to the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, an enforced disappearances happen "in the sense that persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty" by state forces or by third parties acting on their behalf. 

This is "followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law."

In her capacity as former secretary-general of AFAD and focal person of the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances, Bacalso contributed to the drafting and lobbying of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, which was adopted in Paris in 2006.

The treaty, of which the Philippines is not a signatory, holds that "no one shall be subjected to enforced disappearance" and that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance."

In 2013, Bacalso received the Patrick Rice Human Rights Award and the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize.

Disappearances under Duterte admin

Citing figures from FIND, Bacalso said 71 cases of disappearances under President Rodrigo Duterte’s polarizing "war on drugs" have been documented.

"The figure, which speaks of underreporting and inadequacy of documentation due to the atmosphere of fear, pales in comparison with the actual number of cases. The litany of cases from Marcos to the present Duterte administration that remain unresolved continues to lengthen, although facing a huge challenge on documentation," she said.

In February, the Philippine government sought to delist 625 cases of enforced and involuntary disappearances—mostly attributed to state forces—that occurred from 1975 to 2012 during a meeting with a United Nations working group.  

Desparecidos, or the Families of the Disappeared for Justice, said there is no basis for the delisting of 625 cases of disappearances as long as the victims remain missing.

Local rights group Karapatan said there were at least 759 individuals disappeared during the term of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, 821 during the term of former President Corazon Aquino, 39 during the term of Fidel Ramos and 26 during the term of Joseph Estrada.

Karapatan also documented at least 206 victims of enforced disappearances during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and 29 during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III.

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