Disappearance in democracy: One month without word of Santiago Maldonado

Today Argentines will take to the country’s plazas again to demand an answer to the question “Where is Santiago Maldonado?”

One month ago, on August 1, Santiago Maldonado was last seen trying to flee from Argentine Gendarmes after they violently entered the territory of the Pu Lof en Resistencia Mapuche community, in the Patagonian province of Chubut. National government officials have repeatedly denied any possible state responsibility in the case, which is being investigated as an enforced disappearance. And despite international pressure, little headway has been made to find Santiago.

On August 7, the UN Committee on EnforcedDisappearances proceeded with an urgent action, solicited by CELS, demanding that the government carry out a “comprehensive strategy” to search for and find the 28 year old. Two weeks later, on August 22, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted a precautionary measure for the protection of Santiago Maldonado’s rights, urging the Argentine state to adopt the measures needed to determine his whereabouts and to inform the Commission about the investigation into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.

When there are sufficient reasons to presume that a person has disappeared at the hands of a security force, the state has the international obligation to initiate an investigation of the force under suspicion, without delay. But Argentina did not do this. First, the government denied the facts. Later, officials attempted to distract attention by verbally attacking the Mapuche community, which they had already been attempting to associate with “terrorism” in order to justify their harassment and persecution by the state.

CELS is acting as a plaintiff in the judicial investigation into the enforced disappearance of Santiago Maldonado. Several members of the CELS team, including the executive director, have traveled to the area to obtain information firsthand, facilitate contacts between witnesses and court officials, and contribute to the probe. The information gathered so far continues to point to the responsibility of the Gendarmerie.