The word Desaparecidos in Spanish means disappeared: it identifies people arrested for political reasons and whose whereabouts are unknowns. It is a phenomenon more known in South America, but the problem is not specific to any country nor region.
It is found worldwide as a tool of state terrorism. Agents of the state – generally members of the army or police - kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of people, with the utmost secrecy. The arrest, and what happened afterwards, were conducted with no witnesses. Charges were generally vague or self-serving.
The majority of the families of the disappeared do not still know the whereabouts of their loved one. What is most disturbing is that the security forces or others responsible know their whereabouts but conceal them.
Numerous individuals, organizations, and institutions, throughout the world are involved in the struggle to disclose the cases of "disappeared" persons. In some instances, cases date back decades. The battle is waged to effect legal changes and, perhaps more importantly, to keep alive the memory of victims and of the damage caused to their families and communities by such violence. In Latin America, for example, groups of women (the daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and now granddaughters of the "disappeared") have sustained the memory of these victims through public gatherings, writings, and petitions demanding legal action against the authorities responsible for their crimes.
In Argentina and Chile, where thousands disappeared during the military regimes of the seventies and eighties, the culpable military personal (especially those of the highest ranks) exerted pressure on democratic authorities to make judges "forget" the facts and the petitions of the victims and relatives, thereby precluding just trials. Consequently, none of the criminals that organized or effected the wholesale disappearance of fellow citizens in those two countries is today in prison.
Forced disappearance has been declared as a crime against humanity by Article 7 of the 1998 Rome Statue for the International Criminal Court (ICC).