Today, 10 October 2014, is the 20th anniversary of Odhikar. Odhikar was established by a group of young people who strongly believed in democracy, human rights and rule of law; who protested and fought against the autocratic regime of Lieutenant General Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Ershad was toppled by a mass movement in December 1990, mainly triggered by left leaning student organisations. In the 1990’s the people of Bangladesh believed that their dream of constituting a democratic state, based on equality, human dignity and social justice, would be realised. However, Bangladesh became trapped in dynastical, confrontational politics where human rights violations, impunity, nepotism and corruption persists; and where rule of law is constantly ignored.
The year 2013 ended with the Government of Argentina bestowing upon me the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize on 10 December 2013. It is a recognition of the significance of the struggle against enforced disappearances in Asia that submitted the highest number of cases to the United Nations.
At the end of 2013, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention) garnered 92 signatories and 41 States parties. While Asia has rampant cases of disappearances, the only additional State party to the Convention is Cambodia. Not one Asian country has replicated the Philippines in enacting an anti-enforced disappearance law. In Nepal, a nagging insistence for false reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators by merging the anti-disappearance bill with the truth commission blocks the road to a genuine and lasting peace. The much-awaited ratification of the Convention by Indonesia was not realized… No progress was seen in South Korea on victims of disappearances committed by North Korea.
Odhikar believes that ‘democracy’ is a form of the State and presupposes that freedom and human rights are its foundations. Democracy is not merely a process of electing a ruler. Democracy is the result of the peoples’ struggle for inalienable rights, which become the fundamental premise to constitute the State defining collective aspirations and responsibilities. Therefore, the individual freedoms and democratic aspirations of the citizens – and consequently, peoples’ collective rights and responsibilities - must be the foundational principles of the State.
The fifth Congress of Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), held in Manila from 22-25 September and attended by participants from ten countries – Bangladesh, Indonesia, Jammu and Kashmir in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand and Timor-Leste renewed its commitment to fight against impunity and build a world without disappearances.
AFAD is strengthened by the solidarity messages of Mr. Ariel Dulitzky, Chair of the (UNWGEID) and Mr. Emmanuel Decaux, Chair of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearance (UNCED) and friends from various regional and international organizations who recognized the significant contribution of AFAD in the fight against enforced disappearances in various ways.