The world celebrated for the fourth consecutive year the International Day of Forced Disappearances on Sunday, to commemorate all victims, following a U.N. Resolution approved in 2010.
“Forced disappearances” refer to victims forcefully abducted as a strategy to intimidate and spread fear throughout a population. Although most of the victims are actually killed, others were tortured or smuggled into another country, making it very difficult to determine their whereabouts. Some reported as disappeared have never be found and their bodies never recovered.
The proposal for commemorating the day of forced disappearances was brought forward by the Latin American Federation of the Detained-Disappeared, a regional organization, which unites all of the human rights bodies struggling to find the truth.
The forced disappearances of people became an issue of global concern during the right-wing military dictatorships, which governed most of Latin America throughout the 1970s and 1980s. All of them resorted to this technique as a means of limiting opposition to their regimes.
Without dead bodies, these governments could deny knowledge of people's whereabouts and any accusations that they had been killed. As Argentinian Dictator General Jorge Rafael Videla explained in an infamous press conference, "They are neither dead nor alive, they are disappeared."
Across the continent, government military forces targeted hundreds of thousands of people. Many were taken to clandestine prisons and submitted to torture and – if lucky – released afterward.
Most of the military dictatorships were involved in what was later revealed to be a plan of systematic extermination, named Plan Condor. Through this operation, the dictatorships of Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay coordinated their efforts to hunt down left-wing dissidents.
Despite the crimes carried out in those fatal decades in Latin American history, forced disappearances continue, even if the actors involved and the ways in which they occur have changed. Mexico has been especially criticized for failing to address the issue, with the high-profile case of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.