Anguish of 'disappearance' continues across the world, say campaigners

By Tom Clark

By Tom Clark

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For Ariel Dulitzky, the horror of the disappearance of his two cousins in 1970s Argentina remains a painful backdrop to his work to end a practice still used by many governments to silence critics.

Dulitzky, now chair of the U.N. Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, was 11 years old when his cousin disappeared in 1977, with another cousin going missing just a year later.

"They are still disappeared; we don't know what happened with them... Every single day you wait for the person to come back, so then at some point you accept that ok, maybe they are not coming back," Dulitzky told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Thousands of people are still becoming victims of enforced disappearance, rights groups said ahead of the International Day of the Disappeared on Sunday.

Around 85,000 people have been forcibly disappeared in Syria since civil conflict erupted in 2011, according to Amnesty International. These include not only political opponents and human rights activists, but people such as teachers who have merely crossed into government-controlled territory to collect state salaries, the rights group said in a statement.

Civilians are continuing to disappear in Sri Lanka, Gambia and Bosnia, among other countries, Amnesty said.

Enforced disappearances are carried out by state forces or people acting on their behalf, often with authorities refusing to acknowledge the disappearance, placing the victims outside the protection of the law.

"There are still enforced disappearances happening today," Dulitzky said. "We still have cases registered from 88 countries. Those cases come from countries in every single region of the world, both developed and developing, both democratic and authoritarian regimes."

The context of enforced disappearances in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s was typically of governments trying to suppress illegal armed groups or political dissidents, but today ethnic conflicts, the drug trade and human trafficking also fuel the disappearances.

Nearly 25,000 people have disappeared or gone missing in Mexico since 2007, according to Amnesty International, almost half of them during the current administration of President Peña Nieto.

In September 2014, 43 students of a teacher-training college in Mexico's Guerrero State were taken by police while en route to protests against government education reforms. Mexican authorities have failed to properly investigate the case, Amnesty International said.

"Governments in every region of the world, from Syria to Mexico and from Sri Lanka to Gambia may be holding hundreds or even thousands in secret detention," said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's Secretary General.

"In many countries, the authorities continue harassing and intimidating those who are looking for their relatives. The struggle for justice must not cease."

(Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)