Last month I had the great pleasure of meeting Bertha Oliva of the Committee of the Families of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH, Spanish acronym).
I was struck by her quiet steely determination (qualities not uncommon in many other Honduran women I have been fortunate to meet) and her commitment to bringing about change and helping those who, like her, have suffered. I am particularly pleased that she took up our offer to share some thoughts with us today, on the International Day of the victims of Enforced Disappearances, when we reflect on all those who have arbitrarily been detained or disappeared, and offer support to those who still seek answers. Over to you Bertha.
In 1981 the Committee of the Families of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras gave meaning to my life and the search for my husband Tomás Nativí whose child I was then carrying. Tomás had been taken against his will and killed in an unknown location. Along with a number of other women I founded COFADEH. These women, victims of the heinous practice of enforced disappearances that took place between 1979 and 1991, decided to take a stand against death. We created a serious, well respected, ethical and political organization that remains active to this day, almost 34 years after the atrocities, independent of any government, political party or other influential groups.
We made our voice heard; we lifted it up in memory of all of those detained-disappeared in Honduras. We denounced the impunity is still exists in respect of this crime against humanity that has taken the lives of at least 184 brave men and women. “ We feel deeply honoured by all of those detained and disappeared; they invite us not to forget and not to let others forget. They invite us to demand justice and reparation.
On 30 August – International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances – the National Day of the Detained-Disappeared was created in 2002, recognized by a Decree of the National Congress. Because in that particular month over a number of years most of the enforced disappearances in Latin America had occurred, at the hands of corrupt and repressive States especially in the central and southern regions of the continent.
COFADEH and other likeminded organisations mark this occasion, demanding justice for those that were taken from their homes, their schools, their places of work… and never came back. In some cases their families witnessed their detentions, powerless to act. Those carrying out these crimes never carried search or detention warrants. The victims were denied the right of defence, presumption of innocence and all other guarantees recognized by the Constitution and by international treaties on human rights.
We demand reparation. It is impossible to make advances in human rights if there is no reparation. It is a matter of collective consciousness. The State –even when controlled by only a minority – is all of us.
We demand spaces for the historic memory. A museum of those disappeared must be established. It is still possible to recreate their daily lives. The books they read (all of them were passionate readers, that’s why they envisioned a better world). The music they listened to. The clothes they wore… in the end, what makes a human, human.
But we also commemorate this day by showcasing and promoting human rights for the new generation of defenders; for the generational change. This day, 30 August, is an ideal date to share the experience and the dreams of the new generations through an intergenerational meeting of Human Rights Defenders for you and for your voice.
There can be no question of forgetting or forgiving the facts or the perpetrators”.