Enforced disappearance is torture for the families left behind

When someone you love “disappears” it leaves a deep, searing scar. There’s no closure. No grave to place flowers on. Just pain and uncertainty, with an unquenchable thirst for justice.

María Guzman describes it as torture.

Her life changed forever the day her son disappeared, more than 20 years ago.

When I met her in London recently she still carried a picture of her handsome 22 year old son – a Lieutenant in the Mexican army, excited about taking up a new post. Not a very likely candidate for desertion then, although that’s what the Mexican authorities claimed. But then these are the same Mexican authorities who forged documents that they then presented as “evidence” that he had deserted. The same Mexican authorities who allegedly got rid of documents that would have proved that his was a case of enforced disappearance.

The Guzman family have been thrust into an all-consuming battle with the Mexican authorities but have simply come up against a brick wall. Tracing their loved one remains their priority. Like other victims’ families, their lives now revolve around a search for answers to so many questions; a search for justice and accountability for those who know exactly what happened to Lt. Guzman on that day.

Like other victims’ families they’ve been painted as criminals to discredit them. And like many other victims’ families they have been subjected to threats and intimidation for not simply letting things lie, for not giving up their search. But could you give up if it were your brother, son, niece, mother?

To many, the stories and faces of the disappeared can start to fade with time. It all happened so long ago. There’s no hope. But to their families, those memories never fade. The passing of time does little to calm the pain or extinguish that flicker of hope as they relentlessly search for answers and demand justice for those responsible. For brave families like the Guzmans, lives have3 been put on hold as they continue their fight, not just for justice in their own cases but for systematic change to end this awful impunity and prevent future disappearances.

The Guzman’s story would be sad enough if it were just one case in isolation, but it isn’t. Or if such things didn’t happen any more. But they do. Indeed in some countries the number of enforced disappearances is reported to be on the rise. And in Mexico? Well, in the last few weeks Amnesty has issued two urgent actions on cases of enforced disappearance. It’s time for Mexico to show a real political will to tackle this awful problem and start to take action to redress these wrongs.  And why not start with the case of Lt. Guzman?

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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