Making Persons ‘Reappear’ in El Salvador

27 Mar

As many readers of this blog know, the vicious civil war that raged for years in El Salvador left many victims, including the mostly unhealed scars of families seeking knowledge of the whereabouts of children (now adults) who were ‘disappeared’ during military operations in the 1980s.  The combination of the sudden loss of a loved one followed by years of silence regarding their whereabouts is a pain that only few of us can imagine.   The pain only deepens when the ‘disappeared’ are children.

GAPW just spent an important afternoon with the staff of the Pro- Búsqueda Association (, a group of mostly younger professionals dedicated to lifting the veil of disinformation and deceit imposed by those seeking to cover up the truth of many hundreds of childhood disappearances.  Using sophisticated tracking software, Pro- Búsqueda has successfully reunited hundreds of disappeared children (now adults) and their loved ones. The organization also provides counseling services for families.  Many of these extraordinary stories can be founded on their website.

Staff at Pro- Búsqueda have noted with appreciation the cooperation they have received from many international experts as well as from the Inter-American Court for Human Rights.   Pro- Búsqueda is assisting now on what will be only the fourth case to come to the Court from El Salvador.  However, the organization believes that over 900 cases of disappearances are entitled to their day in court, with the strong potential for reparations as well.

A major violation occurred in November 2013 when three armed men entered the Pro- Búsqueda offices, stole computers and set fire to some documents and files.  The attack, which was condemned at the time by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has thankfully not proven to be a fatal setback.  The offices we visited were filled with deep resolve, but also with the sounds of laughter.

One recommendation from Pro- Búsqueda and other groups working in this area is for El Salvador to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance ( and fully abide by its provisions, including ensuring “that any individual who alleges that a person has been subjected to enforced disappearance has the right to report the facts to the competent authorities, which shall examine the allegation promptly and impartially and, where necessary, undertake without delay a thorough and impartial investigation.”

That states have not done due diligence on matters of fact finding, investigation and ending impunity is why the work of Pro- Búsqueda and others working on enforced disappearances is so important.  Disappearing children is a grave crime.   From the standpoint of promoting peaceful societies, giving the disappeared from El Salvador the opportunity to return to their families and communities is among the most hopeful work we have witnessed anywhere.

Dr. Robert Zuber

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