Today is the International Day of the Disappeared, a day to draw attention to the fate of people detained and imprisoned in conditions unknown to their loved ones. Forced disappearances are used by repressive regimes around the world to silence critics and cultivate fear. The practice represents a blatant violation of the most basic of human rights, including the rights to life and liberty.
In keeping with U.S. government policy to advance the principles of freedom and accountability worldwide, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) works with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to promote justice for victims of gross human rights violations and their families. DRL has successfully employed forensic programs in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Latin America to identify disappeared victims in mass graves, in turn helping societies heal the trauma and division from past internal conflicts.
The past year has witnessed some exciting developments. Through DNA sampling and analysis of recovered remains, our programs enabled the positive identification of victims of forced disappearance. Such recognition allows families to conduct traditional and respectful burials -- and provides them with a profound sense of closure. We also supported the reunion of several families with long-lost children and siblings who were forcibly taken from them during conflict. In one case, DRL’s programs reunited a woman who was abducted from her family at only 18 months old during a massacre in 1982. In Latin America, regional forensic organizations have successfully developed a process to transfer knowledge and best practices locally.
By promoting accountability and reconciliation, we are helping to develop a long-term interest in inclusive, democratic processes in the hope that future generations never know the unimaginable anguish of awaiting news of a missing loved one.
About the Authors: Alex Covington serves as a program officer working on Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), and Dr. Riva Kantowitz serves a program officer working on transitional justice issues in DRL.