International Day of the Disappeared: Breaking the silence

Today is the International Day of the Disappeared. A day to draw attention to the people that powerful and corrupt forces don’t want us to see. People whose existence certain governments, military dictatorships, corporations, or powerful figures have tried to stamp out- and to silence- because they have used their human right to free speech to speak out against injustice. We must raise awareness of individuals the world over who are victims of ‘forced disappearance’- who may have been secretly imprisoned, or even murdered, for standing up for what they believe in.

The nature of enforced disappearances means that the families of those who are taken have no idea of where their loved ones are being held, under what conditions they are being kept, or whether they have been tortured or killed.

Enforced disappearances are one of the gravest violations of human rights laws worldwide, but are particularly prevalent in Latin America. 2015 was reportedly the ‘deadliest ever’ year for environmental activists, and according to statistics by Global Witness 7 of the 10 countries with the gravest death tolls are in that region.


Source/ Credit Global Witness

Brazil is particularly notorious for having the highest rate of murders of activists in the world. During the military dictatorship, there was wide scale involvement of Brazilian government agents in enforcing the disappearances of activists politically opposed to the dictatorship, through imprisonment, torture, and murder. This has been verified by the subsequent investigation by the National Truth Commission, which published a document of their findings from the retrospective investigation that took place between 2012-4. Many of those who were targeted have simply never been found, and their families have been left without answers.

Ana Rosa Kucinski was one of those who was never found. She was a chemistry teacher and activist belonging to the National Liberation Alliance. She went for lunch in April, 1974, and was never seen again.

The story of the heart breaking search for Ana has been retold in the emotional novel K, authored by her brother Bernardo Kucinski. In the novel he re-imagines the tragedy through the eyes of an elderly father searching for his daughter, putting everything on the line to find answers. The re-telling of his years of distress is raw, emotional, and compelling. His words compel the world to not forget- and not only to not forget those who were lost during that period in Brazilian politics- but to not forget those who are still being targeted right now.

While the dictatorship was a particularly bleak period in Latin American history, enforced disappearances continue to this day. People like us, who have the luxury of seemingly being removed from the immediate threat of political terror, must be more aware of the threat to human liberty from disappearances, which shape how we understand power, truth, and the reality of people’s lives. The veil of silence that has been cast over those who dissent against injustice and inequality must be revealed by the alternative power of people and words. Let us let them be known; let us not forget them. And let us share their words, and the words of those left behind.

For more information on enforced disappearances and the impetus for this day of awareness please see the Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of Detained-Disappeared (Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos

 K is available to purchase in print and epub from Practical Action Publishing on the Development Bookshop:




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