DTP alumna Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso is the new Executive Director of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a membership-based regional human rights organisation with 85 member organisations in 23 countries across Asia.
Originally from Cebu, southern Philippines, Aileen is a well-respected and a very experienced human rights advocate. She served as the Secretary-General of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) from its founding in June 1998 until July 2019 and was the focal person of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearance (ICAED) from 2010 until July 2019. Before this, she was the Secretary-General and, later, Co-Chairperson of the Philippine-based Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) from 1992 to 2001.
Aileen participated in DTP ‘s annual training in 1996, and she says that it was in the early days of her work for human rights.
“We just moved to Manila from Cebu. And I started as Secretary General of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances. We were part of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA).”
Aileen values the training she received then: “DTP training contributed to forming my basic knowledge for human rights advocacy for many years onwards from that point on.”
Aileen really appreciates DTP’s training methodology of reciprocal learning, where trainers and participants learn from each other.
“This mutual learning process from the co-students was very important because the students were involved in day-to-day human rights advocacy work. And that was important to combine theory and practice. There were also some human rights defenders and NGO workers who were victims of human rights violations. That helped enrich the course because we were not just talking about theories but actual life experiences of victims of human rights violations.”
Aileen’s remarkable contribution to the advancement of human rights in Asia, has been recognised through international awards including the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize conferred by the Government of Argentina and the Franco-German Ministerial Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law.
Aileen was born in Cebu City, Philippines. During the Corazon Aquino administration, her husband was forcefully “disappeared” allegedly by the Military Intelligence Group, during which, he was subjected to severe physical and psychological torture. Aileen’s very personal experience of human rights violations and their impacts contributed to deepening her commitment, and her determination to end violations.
Aileen is keen that FORUM-ASIA relates its mandate of advocating freedom of opinion, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression with the issue of enforced disappearance, which are used to target, intimidate and silence those speaking up for human rights. It is a huge issue in Asia, being the region that submitted the highest number of cases to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in recent years but with the lowest number of ratifications to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
“The connection between enforced “disappearance” and violations of civil liberties is mentioned in the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. Why are people made to “disappear”? It is because of the violations of these freedoms.”
The connection between DTP and Aileen’s work for human rights that began over 30 years ago in the Philippines continues today in the envisioned collaboration between FORUM-ASIA and DTP in building the capacity of human rights defenders across Asia.