Monday, August 22, 2016

They disappear every day

The media (and this blog) regularly report on the very high homicide rate in El Salvador.   Under-reported are the cases of the "desaparecidos" - the disappeared - of El Salvador.   We are not talking about the thousands still missing from El Salvador's civil war, that's the story for another blog post.   Instead we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of primarily young people who are annually kidnapped, abducted, or "disappeared" and never heard from again.

Disappearances are a daily occurrence in El Salvador.  In September 2015, La Prensa Grafica  reported that four persons were being reported as missing every day in El Salvador.

In December 2015, the Instituto de Medicina Legal (IML) which operates El Salvador's morgue, opened a new section to attend to the five to fifteen families which arrive each day seeking to ascertain if their missing loved ones have passed through the doors of the morgue.

The attorney general's office in El Salvador (FGR) has a program for missing children ages 18 and younger called "Alerta Ángel Desaparecido"   Disappeared Angel Alert.   The program is focused on disseminating and receiving information which could be of use in reuniting disappeared children with their families.   It is indicative of the scope of the problem that when I visited the website of Disappeared Angel Alert this week, the program listed more than 250 active cases.   The photos of all these disappeared children can be heartbreaking.

One non-governmental organization which is trying to assist the families of the disappeared is Asociación Salvadoreña por los Derechos Humanos (ASDEHU), the Salvadoran Association for Human Rights.    ASDEHU employs a social worker, psychologist and lawyers to accompany the families whose loved ones have been disappeared.

The director of ASDEHU is Salvadoran lawyer Marina Ortiz.  When I visited the office of ASDEHU last week, Ortiz told me that they were taking in almost one new case per day.   The day I visited, a mother came to ASDEHU because her teenage daughter had departed one morning for a two hour truck and bus trip and never arrived home.   The story of the case included potential gang involvement, threats, and another murder.   We accompanied the mother to make a denuncia with the FGR.  It was the only way she might learn the truth, but with the lack of resources for police and investigators, the majority of families never learn what happened to their loved ones.  "Missing, presumed dead" is too frequently the tragic reality.

Most of the current cases of disappearances are gang-related, but some involve people seized by police or military.  In December 2015, Ortiz filed a legal action in El Salvador's Supreme Court on behalf of families who alleged that Salvadoran armed forces had abducted their sons in 2014.   This followed an earlier case in which a lower court had acquitted soldiers of another abduction.    ASDEHU was involed in the earlier case as well.

Ortiz has personal knowledge of "disappearances."    During El Salvador's civil war, she was taken by Salvadoran armed forces from her family as part of a cruel military program which stole children from their families in parts of the county sympathetic to the leftist guerrillas.   Ortiz was one of the lucky ones, she was eventually reunited with her family years later.  Now as a lawyer, she fights for the rights of other families who have lost their family members to present day evil.











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