Enforced disappearance will be understood as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”

Pursuant to Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2006.

Origin of the commemoration

The International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances has been commemorated since 2011, pursuant to Resolution A/RES/65/209 of the UN General Assembly. There, the international body “welcomes that, in the last years, on 30 August the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances has been commemorated in many countries around the world.” To make this decision, the UN took the proposal of some sectors, like the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (FEDEFAM), which decided to set that date in 1981. This non-governmental organization is composed of Associations of Family Members of countries in Latin American and the Caribbean where forced disappearances had become a common practice.

The resolution of the UN General Assembly states the concern of the body in relation to “the rise in enforced or involuntary disappearances in different regions of the world, like arrests, detentions and abductions when they are part of enforced disappearances or they are similar to them, and the increasing number of reports on harassment, abuse and threats suffered by witnesses of enforced disappearances or family members of people who have been victims of enforced disappearances.”

In its last work session, in May this year, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances examined more than 900 new reported cases of enforced disappearances in Algeria, Bangladesh, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine.  The body, which is formed by a group of five international experts, examines issues related to enforced or involuntary disappearances and urges States to promote the investigation and location of victims of enforced disappearances.

According to the Working Group definition, for an enforced disappearance to occur, three elements must be present:

  1. Deprivation of liberty against the victim’s will.
  2. Participation of agents of the State, at least indirectly by acquiescence.
  3. Refusal to reveal the fate or location of the victim.

State Terrorism in Argentina

In this country, like in many others in the region, the problem of enforced disappearances existed long before the Convention. During the 70s, specially during the last civil-military dictatorship (which lasted from 1976 until 1983), enforced disappearance was the most used method of political persecution and repression. Thousands of men, women and children were abducted and the habeas corpus orders submitted by their families were rejected. To this day, even though some cases were solved and the victims’ bodies were found, most of the victims are still missing.

Politics and art. Fiction meets reality

At the end of the 70s, although Argentina was ruled by a democratic government, the growing power of paramilitary and parapolice repressive forces announced the bloody military dictatorship that would destroy the country after the coup announced on 24 March 1976.

In Buenos Aires, where fear could be felt on the streets, on 24 May 1975, twenty six women escaped from the Buen Pastor prison. This event triggered the play “Tartuffe Code. Molière 1975”, by playwright Merceditas Elordi, which premiered in 2017.

The story takes place at a theater near the Buen Pastor convent. There, a cast is performing a rehearsal of Tartuffe by Molière. The premiere of the play is imminent. In the middle of the rehearsal, a woman arrives desperately asking for help. This is Alicia, a 19-year-old girl who has just escaped the aforementioned political detainee’s prison. The interruption stops the rehearsal and from then on fiction meets reality.

Playwright Merceditas Elordi, director David Señoran, and leading actor and co-creator of the play, Ariel Osiris, provide their view of “Tartuffe Code. Moliëre 1975”, in a video made by the CIPDH.