Who “Disappears”?

August 30, 2014

Artwork for disappeared uncle 'Lost Loved Ones'
Artwork by Shirmeen, aged 16, niece of disappeared Faisal Faraz, who was apprehended during a bus journey to Peshawar in Pakistan in July 2005. Several other persons who had been subjected to enforced disappearances testified to seeing them in detention but state officials denied their detention and any knowledge about their whereabouts.

A mother’s broken heart keeps waiting to know something about her only son, whom she has not seen for 670 days. A new hope is born on every sunrise to see Dr Mohamed Arab once again with us.”

These words from the sister of Syrian doctor Mohamed Bashir Arab reveals something about the special hell family members go through when loved ones face “enforced disappearances” by government authorities. From Syria to El Salvador, North Korea to Laos, family members wake every morning hoping that this is the day that some news is confirmed, and to end every day being denied information and closure.

Each year, August 30 marks the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance, which aims to highlight the plight of thousands of people around the world who have been subjected to enforced disappearance and the suffering of their families. But it is not enough to just highlight the names and stories of the disappeared: This should also be an occasion to act.

Amnesty International has documented cases of thousands of people who have been taken, often tortured, their whereabouts and even whether they remain alive kept secret from their families.

Today I ask you to speak out in the face of silence. Today I ask you to act in defense of those who are not here to defend themselves:

  • We must take action on behalf of 62-year-old Laotian civil society leader Sombath Somphone, who was abducted in December 2012. Laos authorities deny arresting him or having anything to do with his disappearance, and have failed to thoroughly investigate the case.
  • We must speak out on behalf of six Palestinian men who were “disappeared” while in custody in a Palestinian Authority detention center in on March 12, 2002. Government officials have provided little information about the whereabouts of the men, telling family members only that “they had escaped prison and fled to Israel.” At no time were the men formally charged.
  • We must speak up on behalf of political cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda of Sri Lanka. He went missing on January 24, 2010, shortly after leaving work at his news office. He had told friends in the days leading up to his abduction that he suspected he was being followed. When his wife tried to lodge a complaint the day after he disappeared, she was detained for several hours.
  • We must act on behalf of hundreds of Syrian detainees who appear to have been subjected to enforced disappearance — including Mohamed Bashir Arab, the doctor whose mother and sister continue to rise and fall at the hope of information about his whereabouts. Amnesty International has been documenting cases of enforced disappearance in Syria since the late 1970s. The number of disappearances has increased notably since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011.

In every one of these cases, there is an answer. There is someone in these governments who knows where these people are or what happened to them. We implore these governments to cease the practice of enforced disappearance, and to thoroughly investigate the whereabouts of all people who have been disappeared.