International Day for Victims of Forced Disappearances

Today, August 30, is the International Day for Victims of Forced Disappearances.   In El Salvador it is a day for remembering the missing and for making commitments to search for truth and justice.  There are a myriad of reasons why a Salvadoran family may be left with the gaping hole of a loved one who has disappeared.

Thousands are still missing from El Salvador's civil war.   Some were kidnapped; others killed and their bodies never found again.

The wall in to Truth and Memory in Cuscatlan Park  contains the names of thousands missing during the civil war.

The Salvadoran military also had a cruel practice during the war of kidnapping children who were subsequently put for adoption by families outside of the country..   Despite efforts of organizations like ProBusqueda, many children have never been found and reunited with their families.

But disappearances did not end with the conclusion of the civil war.   Hundreds or thousands still disappear each year within El Salvador.  According to the FGR, more than 2000 persons have been reported missing or disappeared so far this year.

The majority of the newly disappeared are victims of the vicious street gangs operating in El Salvador.   But others are youth, picked up by police or military patrols in El Salvador's battle against gang violence and never seen again.

Other families grieve the disappearance of their loved ones along the migrant route to the north.   How many thousands die along the route through Mexico we may never know.  They are kidnapped by cartels, die at the hands of robbers, fall under the wheels of "la bestia," or die from hunger and thirst in the desert. Others disappear into the slavery of human trafficking.

Regardless of the situation, one theme for today is that a family's suffering is the same, no matter what the cause.   The families live with grief and uncertainty, holding out sometimes slim hopes that their loved one is alive, and unable to locate and bury the remains of a family member who may have perished.   They find few resources made available to them by agencies of the Salvadoran government.

Disappearances can be a contentious political issue in El Salvador. The quantity of disappearances is often pointed to when a government points to a drop in the homicide rate under its watch.   Skeptics question whether the drop in homicides is simply the inverse of an increase in disappearances where a body has not been located.

The current Attorney General for El Salvador, Raul Melara,  has responded this year by the creation of a unit dedicated to disappearance cases. Melara went on Twitter today to ask the legislature to approve a law against forced disappearances:

But victims' groups do not believe the government is doing enough.  A group of organizations advocating for victims of forced disappearances held a press conference today to highlight shortcomings in the response of the Salvadoran and Mexican governments in responding to disappearances.   Among other things, they called for effective security policies to reduce disappearances, specialized units in the police and FGR to respond to disappearances, attention to the concerns of victims' families, accurate tracking of reported disappearances and resolution of missing person cases, and naming August 30 as a national day for the victims of forced disappearances.

A poster for a disappeared 15 year old boy distributed in the
"Disappeared Angel" program