Some say that enforced disappearance can be considered the worst human rights violations. “A 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. The victims are well aware that their families do not know what has become of them and that the chances are slim that anyone will come to their aid… If death is not the final outcome and they are eventually released from the nightmare, the victims may suffer from a long time from the physical and psychological consequences of this form of dehumanization and from the brutality and torture which often accompany it.”
(Human Rights Fact Sheet No. 6: Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances)
What is Desaparecidos?
DESAPARECIDOS or Families of Desaparecidos for Justice is an association of the families and close friends of victims of enforced or involuntary disappearance. They came together in March 1995 to form their own organization. Together and drawing strength from one another, they search for their loved ones never giving up hope for justice. They campaign against abduction and enforced disappearance which they believe are being perpetrated in line with the government’s political suppression of its critics. Through advancing human rights, Desaparecidos strives to effect positive changes in Philippines society.
The Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on 18 December 1992, states that an enforced disappearance occurs when “persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups, or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, 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.”
The families of victims of enforced disappearance are in a situation particular to them: “The family and friends of disappeared persons experience slow mental torture, not knowing whether the victim is still alive and, if so, where he or she is being held, under what conditions, and in what state of health. Aware, furthermore, that they too are threatened; that they may suffer the same fate themselves, and that to search for the truth may expose them to even greater danger.
“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 emotional upheaval is thus exacerbated by material deprivation, made more acute by the costs incurred should they decide to undertake a search. Furthermore, they do not know when – if ever – their loved one is going to return, which makes it difficult for them to adapt to the new situation…. Economic and social marginalization is frequently the result.” (Human Rights Fact Sheet No. 6: Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances)
Recognizing their common situation, needs and goals, the families and friends of the disappeared in the Philippines got together and formed their own organization. It has affiliate organizations in Southern Tagalog, Central Luzon, Bulacan, Bicol, Iloilo- Panay, Negros, and Central Visayas.