Absorbing, mysterious; of infinite richness, this life - Virginia Woolf

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Day of the Disappeared

Today is International Day of the Disappeared. On 30 August every year, families and loved ones remember those who have disappeared and for one reason or another, never came home. 

These are not simply cases of a person running away or falling off the map: these are cases where a person is taken away by a state agent or a person acting with the approval of the state. There is a refusal to acknowledge their arrest, their detention or their treatment. They are placed outside the protection of the law. This silence and this secrecy means they can be subject to a range of abuses without public knowledge or legal consequences: arbitrary or indefinite detention, interrogation, torture, extrajudicial execution. Meanwhile their families wait. The initial crime of the disappearance has not ended: it continues each day that a family waits for news and wonders and worries. 

Right now this is happening in Syria. It happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the well-remembered conflicts and dictatorships in Timor Leste, Chechnya, Argentina and elsewhere. It also happened in many other places less well remembered: Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mauritania, and elsewhere.

I took these pictures in Pristina in June, the week that I left Kosovo. My camera is not faulty: the photos are faded from years of sun, rain, snow, and inaction. They have been hanging outside government buildings for 13 years, with no information forthcoming about the fate or whereabouts of the faces which fade slowly into the shadows, year on year.

Amnesty International reported today that at least 40,000 people had disappeared across Yugoslavia during the conflicts of the 1990s. The fate and whereabouts of over 14,000 are still unknown today, 10,500 of whom were in Bosnia. Up to 20 years later, family members may have accepted at this point that their loved ones will not come back home. Nonetheless, they have not been able to receive their remains for burial, they do not have a grave to visit, they may be denied access to pensions and other benefits for victims, and  perhaps more emotionally, they may never learn the truth about what happened. 

An estimated 1,797 persons - both Albanian and Serb - remain missing following the 1999 Kosovo conflict. Theirs are the faces which fade in the sun in these pictures. 

#DemandJustice with Amnesty International for victims of enforced disappearance and their families: http://demandjusticenow.org/enforced-disappearances/

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