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Enforced Disappearances: progress and challenges in South America

Viviana Díaz, aged 61, remembers as if it were yesterday the morning when her father, Victor Díaz, after receiving a phone call, said goodbye to her, her mother and her two brothers and left his home in Santiago, Chile. It was 11 September 1973 and it would be the last time she would ever see him.

After he left, Mr. Díaz lived in hiding for 32 months. Then, on the morning of 12 May 1976 her father was found by agents of the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA). He was tortured and detained.

“That´s when our search began – a search that extends to the present day,” says Viviana, who has dedicated her life searching the truth sourrounding her father’s disappearance and to the more than 1,000 victims of enforced disappearances during the dictatorship in Chile.

The systematic use of torture and disappearances, as defined by the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance was common during various dictatorships in South America between 1960 and 1980.

For Ariel Dulitzky, expert member of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), in South America the practice of enforced disappearances has developed. However, the region is now “a place where creative solutions to respond to the phenomenon of enforced disappearance are in the process,” he said.

“There are major efforts in many countries,” observed Dulitzky, upon concluding the Working Group´s official mission to Chile from 13 to 21 August 2012, along with colleague Jasminka Dzumhur. “We believe there has been impressive progress in the area of justice in Chile. We learned that despite the persistence of an amnesty law, they [the Government] can still try and convict those responsible for disappearances.”  

In Argentina, human rights organizations estimate the disappearances of 30,000 people during the country´s military dictatorship, as well as the systematic theft and misappropriation of some 500 babies. “In relation to dealing with the issue of enforced disappearances, Argentina has a clear leadership in the region and is an example of how to do things,” said Luciano Hazan, a member of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and a lawyer with the Asociación Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo - Association of Plaza de Mayo Grandmothers - an organization established in 1978 in response to the forced or involuntary disappearance of hundreds of children during that period.

Despite the size of the tragedy, “Argentina is at the forefront in terms of reparations to victims and their families, in the construction of memory spaces, the search for justice and the end of impunity,” stressed Estela De Carlotto, President of Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. She said that the law to annul the amnesty laws and the hundreds of trials initiated for crimes against humanity during the dictatorship as well as the constant search for babies kidnapped by military agents are various initiatives that highlight the nation´s progress.

Since 1977, when her daughter, who was three-months-pregnant, was abducted, de Carlotto has not stopped looking for her grandson, Guido. “We do not want forgiveness or reconciliation; we want truth, justice and the weight of the law. Some want to forget: we say Never,” emphasized De Carlotto, who endeavours to reveal the truth of the horrors of enforced disappearances during the dictatorship so that their systematic use is never repeated.

In August, Asociación Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo announced the recovery of the 106th grandson, identified as Pablo Gaona Miranda, who was abducted a month after birth and adopted by a retired colonel. Another 400 cases like his remain unresolved in Argentina.
In Chile, important details surrounding the case of Viviana´s father were revealed in 2007, indicating that his body was thrown to sea after seven months of torture. There are currently 74 people charged with his kidnapping and homicide.
 
“Despite all the suffering, I don´t think spending a lifetime dedicated to this has been in vain,” says Viviana.

To pay tribute to those who disappeared, as well to their families and friends, the United Nations proclaimed 30 August as the UN International Day of the Disappeared.

31 August 2012

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