Can Poetry Bring Back the Disappeared?


On August 30, the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty launched “Silent Shadows” – a poetry competition in Sri Lanka to mark the decades of enforced disappearances experienced there.  That sentence raises at least four questions:

  • Why enforced disappearances? Enforced disappearances are a particularly heinous form of human rights violation.  Government agents detain a person and the government later denies any knowledge or responsibility for his or her whereabouts or status.  The victims are often tortured and in fear for their lives, while their relatives live with the agony of uncertainty over their loved ones’ fate. 


16 Years of Silence: Enforced Disappearances in Belarus Must Be Investigated


By Viachaslau “Slava” Bortnik, Belarus Country Specialist, Amnesty International USA

The legal term may be clunky – “enforced disappearance” – but the human story is simple: People literally disappear, from their loved ones and their community, when state officials (or someone acting with state consent) grab them from the street or from their homes and then deny it, or refuse to say where they are. It is a crime under international law.

September 16 marked the 16 anniversary of enforced disappearance of prominent Belarusian opposition politician Viktar Hanchar and his business associate Anatol Krasouski. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Do You Want to Know the Secret Behind Enforced Disappearances?

Amina Masood at AI demonstration outside Pakistan High Commission

Every year, thousands of men, women and children go missing in dozens of countries around the world. In 2012, Amnesty International documented such cases in 31 countries. It’s a crime, all right, but these are not kidnappings for ransom or other criminal motives. These people were taken away by their own governments or agents acting for the government. The government then denies any knowledge of their whereabouts. Their relatives live in a torment of uncertainty – not knowing whether their loved ones are alive, being tortured or even dead. The missing have joined the ranks of the “disappeared.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

How to Get Away With Torture: 6 All Too Easy Steps


More than 100 people were “disappeared” by the U.S. government and shuttled to secret detention sites between 2002 and 2008. Many were tortured.

Thanks to a new U.S. Senate report, we know more about how this happened than ever before. We’re calling it “The American Torture Story.” It’s a story that had to be written: and now it’s a story that must be read.

Shockingly, the US Justice Department, charged with investigating violations of the law, is apparently refusing to read to this Senate study—let alone act upon it. And as a new Amnesty International report shows: No one has been brought to justice. The United States is providing de facto amnesty to torturers.

Here’s 6 ways that those responsible have gotten away with torture – and 6 reasons we must act. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Locked Away: Sri Lanka's "Security" Detainees

Sri Lanka

Prisoners have been held for extended periods without charge at Welikada Prison © Private

I want to tell you a story about a man arrested in Sri Lanka.  It’s shocking.

In June 2008, “Roshan” (not his real name) was arrested in Colombo by unknown assailants who he later learned were plainclothes police.  The police suspected him of links to the opposition Tamil Tigers.  He was held for two years without ever being charged or tried and was repeatedly tortured, before eventually being released.  No one has been held accountable for his treatment.


Kashmir Legislators Must Not Ignore Human Rights

Click image to enlarge. Copyright: Malik Sajad, used by permission

Yesterday, Amnesty International wrote an open letter to all members of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State Assembly calling on them to take action to protect human rights and to investigate past human rights violations.

Among the actions we are calling for legislators to accomplish in this session:


Finding the Disappeared

Gao Zhisheng with his family.

Disappeared human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng with his family. © AI

On August 30, Amnesty International and other human rights groups around the world will observe the International Day of the Disappeared.  We’ll be pressing governments to disclose the status of  the disappeared and to prosecute those responsible for enforced disappearances.  Here’s how you can join us:


Continued Impunity: Enforced Disappearances in Colombia

In the last two weeks, Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí in north-west Colombia, were subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. They were both picked up by a group of paramilitaries, who took them away to “resolve some land issues.”

Pineda and González have not been heard from since, and their whereabouts remain unknown. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk, and has issued an Urgent Action on their behalf.

Enforced disappearances persist in many countries all over the world, and violate a wide range of human rights. In Colombia, especially, there is tremendous impunity for enforced disappearances, and violators continue to evade justice.


Remembering The Disappeared

Amnesty International condemns all enforced disappearances as crimes under international law.  And on August 30, we’ll be doing something about them.

Sandya Eknaligoda

Sandya Eknaligoda wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, Sri Lanka, 10 January 2011

An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is arrested or abducted by the state or agents of the state, who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.

Enforced disappearances take place around in the world, including in countries such as China, Nepal, Chad, Sri Lanka and North Korea.  In Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of enforced disappearances occurred during decades of civil conflict on the island.  One recent example is the journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing after work on Jan. 24, 2010.


Filipino Farmer Tells of Enforced Disappearance Nightmare

Raymond Manalo is one of the very few living victims of enforced disappearance.

He was abducted from his family home by armed men in February 2006 along with his brother Reynaldo. During 18 months in secret detention, he was subjected to repeated torture by his military jailers until the brothers made a daring escape.

They have since been reunited with their family but their struggle goes on. No one has been punished for the abuses suffered by the brothers, who were accused of being members of Communist armed group the New People’s Army (NPA), despite them having denied any such affiliation.

After being taken by the security forces, they were held in a cell in a military camp with 12 other abductees, where they were starved and regularly tortured with “searing hot tin cans”, “smacked with wood”, and “beat while pouring water into my [their] nose”.

After surviving the ordeal, Raymond was introduced to a man known as “The Butcher” – then a military commander, who has been prominent in the fight against Communists insurgents. The commander allowed Raymond to go with military escorts and see his parents.  He ordered Raymond to ensure that his family would not tell anyone about his detention, bring their case to court, or to speak to human rights organizations.

In the weeks that followed, Raymond was offered the possibility of becoming a soldier, as his captors were apparently impressed by his hardiness.  The brothers were moved to an officer’s farm in Pangasinan province, northern Philippines.  There they tilled the land as unpaid workers for the officer. Raymond went along with the plan, while all along waiting for his moment to escape.

“One day, our chance came. Our ‘guards’ were all completely drunk and while they slept, my brother and I fled by the side of the farm where there were no houses and made it to the highway.”

In the three years since Raymond’s escape, that justice has been elusive. His attempts to file a criminal case against soldiers who subjected him to abuses have been delayed or dismissed by the courts, while he lives in constant fear that he could be abducted again.

“I am free, but I am not really free. The soldiers can take me again any time, all they need to do is take off their uniforms and do it anonymously”