The drama of disappearances in Latin America is of “unknown magnitude,” says the ICRC

The drama of disappearances in Latin America is of


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By Giovanna Ferullo M.

There is nothing to stop at familiesLooking for their loved ones missing, a phenomenon of “unknown or insufficiently recognized magnitude” in Latin America and the Caribe, with thousands of relatives in limbo and marginalized by States that do not give them answers, warns Susana López, coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the ICRC’s Missing Persons program.

“We have thousands and thousands of families fighting” in a context of “very little institutional support” and lack of centralized and effective management systems, he assures Efe López.

That is why in the framework of the commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, the International Red Cross Committee (ICRC) calls for attention to the situation of these victims, especially in the context of the pandemic that is devastating the region.

The restrictions due to the health crisis add “another layer to the many challenges that relatives already face in their search, and expose the probability that the family will die in loneliness and sadness, without ever having had an answer about their loved one ”, Adds the coordinator.

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The lack of “reliable” figures on the disappeared is the “great challenge” and makes it difficult to design public policies that can help provide responses to families and reduce the incidence of the phenomenon in the region, explains the coordinator.

For the Red Cross, a missing person is someone whose family has no news. They may be alive or dead, they may have disappeared in the context of an armed conflict, violence, natural disasters or during their migration: “We are talking about boys, girls, women, men, older adults,” says López.

ICRC estimates that in Colombia there are at least 83,000 missing persons, in Brazil more than 82,000 registered in 2018, in Mexico more than 73,000, in Guatemala more than 45,000, in Peru more than 20,000 and in El Salvador between 8,000 and 10,000 .

“But the truth is that we do not know if these figures are true. There may be underreporting or oversized numbers. In our continent, it is still necessary to develop centralized management systems that are effective in dealing with information related to missing persons ”, he insists.

More “political will” is needed to move forward. The States have taken steps with the approval of legislation and search mechanisms, but “the total magnitude of the problem either remains unknown or remains insufficiently recognized,” he stressed.


Behind every missing person is a family desperately searching for them, some for decades. They face feelings of uncertainty and pain, legal and financial difficulties – in general they are low-income groups – and the neglect of society.

Family members “are victims, they suffer discrimination, marginalization, stigmatization. So many years waiting for an answer generates emotional problems that come to somatize in physical ailments, ”recalls López.

But “there is nothing to stop the families, they will not stay with their arms crossed,” says the official from her experience.

Thus, even from confinement to their homes due to the pandemic, families “are finding a way to continue the search, to exert positive pressure to speed up the processes,” he highlights.


“Many times we see that the authorities do not have the capacities, the resources or the political will to respond to the needs of the families of the disappeared, and this is where the Red Cross can play a role,” says the regional coordinator.

The agency accompanies the families in the process and also the authorities, to whom it provides advice for the creation of laws and search mechanisms, and training in forensic matters.

“We are positioning the right to know of the relatives. We place families at the center of the search action ”, he asserts.

López insists that the political will necessary to advance in the resolution of this humanitarian drama is created “through awareness-raising, raising awareness and promoting cooperation.”

For this reason, the ICRC, in alliance with Playing Change, produced the music video “Hasta la root”, made during the pandemic with the participation of more than 15 musicians from Latin America “to tell the families of the disappeared that they are not alone”.

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