Show Your Solidarity: Fold a Crane for the Birthday of Disappeared Activist James Balao

Newly-elected members of the Phillipine

Join Amnesty International USA and call on the Philippine government to expedite the investigation and resolve the disappearance of activist James Balao (Photo Credit: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images).

April 19, 2013 marks the 52nd birthday, of indigenous people’s activist James Balao. James is just one of at least 200 to have disappeared in the Philippines over the past decade. James has not been seen or heard from since he disappeared from his hometown on September 17, 2008 when he was taken by armed men, claiming to be law enforcers.

James is a part of the Igorot ethnic group, an indigenous minority from the Cordillera region in the northern Philippines. He is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a grassroots organization advocating for the rights of indigenous people. The military has vilified the CPA as a communist organization, and labeled James a communist.

The CPA feels James may have disappeared as a result of the government’s anti-terrorism measures (Operation Plan Bantay Laya or Freedom Watch), which has unfairly targeted legitimate organizations that resulted to a series of extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances throughout the country.

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Finding the Disappeared

Gao Zhisheng with his family.

Disappeared human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng with his family. © AI

On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared.  We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of  the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances.  Here’s how you can join us:

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Remember the Disappeared in the Philippines

By Leila Chacko, Country Specialist for the Philippines

August 30th marks the International Day of the Disappeared.   This would be an appropriate time for the Philippine government to answer questions regarding disappeared citizens, including indigenous people’s activist James Balao.  He is one of at least 200 to have disappeared in the Philippines over the last decade.

Balao disappeared from his home on September 17, 2008 when he was taken by armed men, claiming to be police. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Balao is a part of the Igorot ethnic group, an indigenous minority from the Cordillera region. He is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a grassroots organization advocating for indigenous people’s rights. The military has called the CPA a communist organization, and called Balao a communist. The CPA feels Balao may have disappeared as a result of the government’s anti-terrorism measures (Operation Plan Bantay Laya), which has unfairly targeted legitimate organizations.

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Turkey's Disappeared: The Pain of the Past and New Dangers

Turkey, more than most countries, is a place where forgetting the past has become a central component of national culture.   This August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, is a time when Turkey should renew its efforts at uncovering and facing some of the uglier pages of that past in the hopes of creating a freer, more democratic future.

Kurdish women hold portraits of their missing sons during a demonstration against the killing of 12 Kurdish rebels by security forces. © Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images

Although many mass graves in Turkey can be traced to the beginning of the century, a map recently published in the daily, Radikal, highlights the startling extent of such sites dating from the 1990’s, when the war between the Turkish state and the Kurdish nationalist, PKK, or Kurdish Workers’ Party, burned hottest.  The bodies of thousands were unceremoniously dumped into mass graves.

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Justice for Guatemala's Disappeared?

Yesterday, The Washington Post published an article highlighting the opening of Guatemala’s police archives. The archives — which contain documentation of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict that killed approximately 200,000 people – could provide long awaited justice to families who never got answers about disappearances and murders of their loved ones.

The article continues with a comment from Amnesty International: “I don’t think anyone truly believed this day would come,” said Barbara Bocek, the Guatemala country specialist for Amnesty International USA. “It’s an incredible achievement, especially for Guatemala. In other countries these records would be buried underground, shredded, destroyed.”

However, AI has expressed concern about intimidation of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, the agency credited with discovering the warehouse of documents: “The wife of the Director of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office was kidnapped on Wednesday and tortured. One official was beaten up, whilst a number of threats have been made against other officials of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. These include a bomb threat and a threat against the life of the Director of the Office. ”

WIth such an incredible opportunity in Guatemala comes the familiar forces of intimidation and secrecy. Do you think the opening of Guatemala’s police archives will bring long awaited justice to the families of the disappeared?