“It is amazing how, an injustice, whether this be an extrajudicial killing, an enforced disappearance or torture, gives birth to people who would have otherwise lived a different life, but had now taken up the cudgels for the killed, the disappeared and the tortured.” – Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — In an inspirational speech before human rights defenders, Edita Burgos shared how families of victims of human rights violations take on the struggle of their loved ones.
“There are two reactions which I have observed to human rights violations and abuses, especially if you are a victim. The first is a very natural reaction — fear, paralysis, silence and /or escape. The second is not common — courage accompanied by catalysis to action,” Mrs. Burgos said.
Mrs. Burgos’ son Jonas, a farmer activist, was abducted more than seven years ago. An eyewitness has identified Phil. Army Maj. Harry Baliaga as one of those who abducted him inside a mall in Quezon City.
In her search for Jonas, Mrs. Burgos said she has met others, who, are searching too, for their loved ones who have fallen victim of enforced disappearance. Many, she said, have taken up the struggle that their loves ones used to fight for.
They were not vocal or tenacious, she said, but one single evil act has made them “living heroes.”
“It is amazing how, an injustice, whether this be an extrajudicial killing, an enforced disappearance or torture, gives birth to people who would have otherwise lived a different life, but had now taken up the cudgels for the killed, the disappeared and the tortured,” Mrs. Burgos said.
There is something about killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations, she added, “that spurs a victim not only to seek justice for herself or her loved one but to see the human rights violations in a broader perspective. This perspective in turn sensitizes those who are ‘left behind’ to see the plight of other such victims and to extend a helping hand.”
She added that for every person killed or disappeared, “hundreds replace them.” Her entire family and their friends, for one, have become members of the Free Jonas Burgos Movement.
The forum, titled “Sharing Best Practices in Advocating for Legislation Against Enforced Disappearance,” was organized by the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. It was held on Sept. 17 to 20 at the Orchid Garden Suites in Manila.
Experiences from other countries
Roberto Garreton, a lawyer from Chile, said social activists and lawyers remain victims of impunity in many parts of Central America.
In Mexico, he said, there are new cases of enforced disappearances perpetuated by drug dealers. But because its government, mandated to protect its citizens, has not lifted a finger to pursue cases and to put a stop to it, Garreton said, “they are also culprits.”
There are three components of enforced disappearances, he said. First is the act of abduction without any legal basis. Second is cowardice for “operating like a gang with 10-20-30 members just to abduct one or two persons.” It is also cowardice, he added, that perpetrators know that even by committing such, they know that they would be protected.
Lastly, Garreton said, is the deceit and lie. Those who are looking for their loved ones, he said, would be told by the military that “we never detained this person” or that “he may be with terrorists” or “maybe their own comrades did this.”
“This is all we get, don’t we?” he asked the participants of the forum, rhetorically.
Victims, on the other hand, are only equipped with the truth, which they would use to fight state security forces and even corrupt media groups who echo every word that the government would say.
Garreton reminded the participants, however, that perpetrators have all the resources to protect themselves from the truth.
During the open forum, a participant said another component of an enforced disappearance is that it is a “consequence of an oppressive regime.” Such crime, he added, is meant to silence and forbid the society to be free.
“They want us to forget. They also want the truth to disappear,” he said.
Irina Krasovskaya of Belarus said that in the case of her missing husband Anatoly, the United Nations Committee on Human Rights had ruled that the Belarus government was responsible for the disappearance but the State never recognized it.
Anatoly was disappeared on Sept. 16, 1999.
Their struggle for victims of enforced disappearances in Belarus, Krasovskaya added, remains unsuccessful for now as the alleged perpetrators are still in power. They are the same people, she added, who have been ruling the country for some 20 years.
They have tried all legal procedures but, she said, all their petitions were rejected.
More than legislation
Lorena Santos, secretary general of Desaparecidos, one of the participants of the forum, told Bulatlat.com that the forum is a testimony of how enforced disappearance is being used by oppressive governments worldwide to silence the opposition.
She added that leading the pack is the United States, which, through the CIA, perpetuated enforced disappearance among those who are struggling for national liberation and human rights in Latin America and here in the Philippines.
Santos added that enforced disappearance remains as one of the tools to terrorize and pacify national liberation movements and that mere legislation or ratifying a UN convention could not totally put an end to it. The entire repressive system, she said, that serves the interest of the few, must be ended first.
Mrs. Burgos was interrupted in the middle of her speech when the sound system broke down. Mrs. Burgos then said she is used to this. Whenever she uses her cellphone, it would suddenly turn off.
“They surveil me,” she said, referring to state security forces. Then, she jested, “Maybe they want to find out who I am dating next.”