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My Uncle Is Coming Tomorrow

References and Further Information on Enforced Disappearances

Back matter from My Uncle Is Coming Tomorrow

Throughout history people have disappeared. Their unexplained absence leaves a searing pain in those left behind.  They never know what happened to their loved one, whether it be a father or mother, a son or daughter, or a friend.

But it was only in the middle of the 20th Century, during the Cold War, that “Disappearing people” became a systematic instrument of terror committed by governments-- a way of getting rid of political enemies, of extinguishing their ideas, and creating such fear that people stopped their political activity. We can assume that these people were murdered.  But in the majority of cases their bodies were never found or identified, and their families never knew what had happened to them.  Because there was no proof of their death, of course people waited and waited for them to return.  The pain this causes is one of the most terrible things that can be done by one person to another.

An extreme example of this practice took place in 1965 when the Indonesian military, with the help of the CIA, overthrew the legitimate government of Indonesia’s President Sukarno. They followed up by disappearing somewhere between 500,000 and 3,000,000 people.  This came to be known as the Jakarta Method and it was successful in moving Indonesia into the USA’s orbit.  

When after World War II large numbers of people in countries in South and Central America began to actively seek social and political reforms that threatened local and outside corporate interests, the United States supported dictatorships that had overthrown democratically elected governments. These interventions involved training Latin American military in what was called counterinsurgency. CIA officers and military suggested to local militaries and members of the upper classes that it would be a good idea to look at the effectiveness of the Jakarta Method.  So began the terrible period of the Latin American dictatorships from the 1960s to the mid 1990s when hundreds of thousands of people were disappeared. This book is set in South America in that period.

Disappearing people  continues to take place all over the world. Journalists are targeted in many countries. It is being used, right now, to break the will of ethnic groups standing up for their rights in certain countries-- for example in Tibet and in  Xinjiang Province, in China. Organized crime has also taken up disappearing people sometimes with the assistance of corrupt officials.  

Disappearing people is a crime against humanity.  Let us inform ourselves about where and when this practice is taking place and insist that no child ever again has to wait his or her whole life for an uncle that never comes.


The references on this page back up information contained in the text above. They are meant to lead to further discussion and investigation.  

United Nations

In international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly abducted by a state, political organization, or by a third party.

According to the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, proclaimed by the General Assembly in its resolution 47/133 of 18 December 1992 as a body of principles for all States, an enforced disappearance occurs when:

"persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government, or by organized groups or private individuals acting on behalf of, or with the support, direct or indirect, consent or acquiescence of the Government, followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law."

Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Fact Sheet No. 6 Rev. 3  

In the official UN report of 2009, of the 82 countries where the cases of missing persons were identified, the largest number (more than 1000) transmitted were:[32] Iraq (16,544), Sri Lanka (12,226), Argentina (3,449), Guatemala (3,155), Peru (3,009), Algeria (2,939), El Salvador (2,661) and Colombia (1,235). Other countries with numerous cases under denunciation (between 1000 and 100) are: Chile (907), China (116), Congo (114), Ethiopia (119), Philippines (780), Honduras (207), India (430), Indonesia (165), Iran (532), Lebanon (320), Morocco (268), Mexico (392), Nepal (672), Nicaragua (234), Russian Federation (478), Sudan, Yemen (155) and East Timor (504).

For more information on disappeared person in specific countries consult 

Historical Data

Indonesia and the Jakarta Method

  • The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins Public Affairs, New York 2020

Chapter 9 makes specific reference to the Use of the Jakarta Method in Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

South America 1960s-1980s

The Latin American practice emerges as the model of the use of enforced disappearances to bring about political ends.

Despite these earlier examples, only the massive and systematic use of enforced disappearances in the Southern Cone of Latin America in the 1970s, especially in Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, brought the issue to the attention of the international community.

While there is no exact number due to the characteristics of the crime and the perpetrators’ refusal to provide information in their possession, hundreds of thousands of people disappeared in Latin America.

  1. The Systematic Use of Enforced Disappearance

Originally, most of the Latin American disappearances occurred as part of a systematic practice of human rights violations, as described early on by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR): Some governments continue to refuse to provide information on the fate of persons kidnapped from their homes, places of work, ports or airports or in public thoroughfares, by non-uniformed, heavily armed individuals, traveling in unmarked vehicles and acting with such security and impunity that they are assumed to be forces invested with some authority. The truth is that until now, all the remedies provided for under domestic law, and the innumerable efforts made by family members, friends, institutions, agencies, and by this Commission itself, to find out what has happened to victims of such procedures have been fruitless.47

The use of enforced disappearances in Latin America started in Guatemala in the mid-to-late 1960s. In March 1966, 28 opposition leaders were disappeared by Guatemalan Security Forces. 

  • See PATRICK BALLET AL.,AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE,CENTRO INTERNACIONAL PARA INVESTIGACIONES EN DERECHOS HUMANOS, STATE VIOLENCE IN GUATEMALA,1960–1996:AQUANTITATIVE REFLECTION, 15–16(1999); DISAPPEARANCES:AWORKBOOK, supranote 12, at 17–30. 46The Latin American Federation of Associations for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (FEDEFAM)held in 1983 that there were more than 90,000 disappeared persons. Ana Camacho, Más de 90.000 desaparecidos, en Latinoamérica en los últimos años, EL PAÍS(Feb. 11, 1983), Recently, the Peruvian government raised the number of disappeared persons in that country to 20,329. See Redacción EC, Cifra de desaparecidos en conflicto interno se eleva a más de 20 mil, EL COMERCIO (Apr. 23, 2018, 10:53 PM), National Center for Historic Memory of Colombia reports that 60,630 persons disappeared in that country during the armed conflict. See CENTRO NACIONAL DE MEMORIA HISTÓRICA, HASTA ENCONTRARLOS: EL DRAMA DE LA DESAPARICIÓN FORZADA EN COLOMBIA (2016), Mexico, although there is no official data on the number of forcibly disappeared people, as of October28, 2018, the total number of missing or not localized persons reported at the state level was 36,265and 1,170at the federal level. Of course, not all of them are enforced disappearances. See REGISTRO NACIONAL DE DATOS DE PERSONAS EXTRAVIADAS O DESAPARECIDAS, Comm’n H.R., Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 1977, OEA/Ser.L/V/11.43, §II (Apr. 20, 1978

Meanwhile, during the same year (1979), the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted a resolution on Chile on 31 October, in which it declared that the practice of disappearances was "an affront to the conscience of the hemisphere",[15] after having sent in September a mission of the Inter-American Commission to Argentina, which confirmed the systematic practice of enforced disappearances by successive military juntas. In spite of the exhortations of non-governmental organizations and family organizations of the victims, in the same resolution of 31 October 1979, the General Assembly of the OAS issued a statement, after receiving pressure from the Argentine government, in which only the states in which persons had disappeared were urged to refrain from enacting or enforcing laws that might hinder the investigation of such disappearances.[16]

For more information on disappeared person in specific countries consult:

Further Reading

Atención! Murderer Next Door

What to do when your neighbors have carried out crimes against humanity.

About remembering people who have been disappeared on the annual Day of the Forcibly Disappeared August 30

Guatemala Disappeared: Reuniting families with the remains of loved ones.

Almost 25 years on from the signing of a peace agreement which put an end to Guatemala's bloody armed conflict, thousands of families have yet to find the remains of their missing relatives.

Contemporary Examples

The material in this section deals with some countries in which large numbers of people are being disappeared at the time this book was published –2022.  They are meant as examples. However, there are many other countries where enforced disappearances are taking place.


China stepping up use of secret detention without trial, report warns. By Emma Graham Harrison The Guardian June 22, 2021

Rights activists say country has built one of world’s most far-ranging systems of forced disappearance. China has ramped up its use of secret detention without trial, creating one of the most far-ranging systems of forced disappearance in the world, human rights activists warn in a report.

Tens of thousands of people have been subjected to “residential surveillance at a designated location” (RSDL), an anodyne, bureaucratic name for an Orwellian system, the group Safeguard Defenders said in the report, Locked Up.

Mexico 2000s

Five Years Ago, 43 Students Vanished. The Mystery, and the Pain, Remain The case has become a symbol of Mexico’s broken rule of law. By Marina Franco Sept. 29, 2019

But what happened on that Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, has become a symbol of the violence, impunity and broken rule of law that plagues Mexico. By the end of the night, six people were dead, and 43 of the students, last spotted being forced into police trucks, had vanished. Five years on, their whereabouts are still unknown, their cases unsolved.

Losing control  The search for the disappeared points to Mexico’s darkest secrets  Mary Beth Sheridan Washington Post December 3, 2020

More than 79,000 people have disappeared in Mexico, most of them since 2006. It’s the worst crisis of the disappeared in Latin America since the Cold War, when military-backed governments kidnapped and secretly killed their leftist opponents — an estimated 45,000 in Guatemala, up to 30,000 in Argentina, as many as 3,400 in Chile. And Mexico’s numbers keep rising. Last year saw a record. Mexicans are uncovering two clandestine graves a day, on average.

Mexico’s disappeared since 2006

For the first time, the federal government has committed to a serious effort to find the missing. Quintana is in charge. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a longtime leftist, named her as part of a sweeping commitment to elevate human rights in a country still emerging from its authoritarian past.

But Mexico’s new wave of disappearances is more baffling, more complex than what happened during Latin America’s dirty wars of the 1970s and 1980s. It coincides with the drug war and the country’s troubled transition to democracy.

The culprits are sometimes the armed forces, but more commonly they’re the country’s drug cartels, often in league with corrupt police. The sheer number of the disappeared reflects a collapse of order in America’s neighbor, with a proliferating number of crime groups warring over territory.

In Mexico, Not Dead. Not Alive. Just Gone. By Azam Ahmed Nov. 20, 2017

With the drug war’s “disappeared” numbering in the tens of thousands, some families take up the search for loved ones on their own. 


    ICMP Ukraine's Forgotten Missing and Disappeared

     All Over Ukraine, People are Missing



    Further Reading

    For younger readers

    Walk With Me Jairo Buitrago Rafael Yockteng  

    Manuelito Elisa Amado Abraham Urias  

    For older readers

    The Twilight Zone: A Novel Nona Fernández 

    We encourage readers to do further research on this subject as enforced disappearances are continuing to take place in many parts of the world.