Pop go the people

Imagine that your loved one suddenly disappeared and you have not seen or heard from him or her ever since. I believe the feelings of uncertainty, worry, agony and helplessness can be even worse than if that person is confirmed dead.

People don't just disappear without a reason. Except in the rather rare instances that the disappearance is self-induced, such as when the person has to flee from someone or something, most cases of disappearance involve the subjects being abducted. In such cases, the ones who suffer are not only the disappeared, who are under grave danger of being harmed, tortured or killed, but also their families. And that is what makes the International Day of the Disappeared, which took place yesterday, very meaningful.

Here is what Amnesty International USA says about "enforced disappearance":

"You could be taken at any time, day or night. You might be at home, at work or traveling on the street. Your captors may be in uniform or civilian clothes. They forcibly take you away, giving no reason, producing no warrant. Your relatives desperately try to find you, going from one police station or army camp to the next. The officials deny having arrested you or knowing anything about your whereabouts or fate. You have become a victim of enforced disappearance.

"Enforced disappearance is a grave human rights violation and a crime. Amnesty International defines an enforced disappearance as the detention of someone by the state or its agents, when the authorities deny that the victim is in custody or conceal what has happened to them. Enforced disappearances have occurred across the world - in Sri Lanka, Russia, El Salvador, Morocco, Iraq, Thailand, Pakistan, Bosnia, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt and Argentina, to name a few. No one is immune; victims have included men, women and children.

"An enforced disappearance violates the rights of both the disappeared person and their relatives. Disappeared persons are denied the right to a proper arrest and to a fair trial. They may be tortured, detained in poor conditions and eventually killed. The relatives of the disappeared persons suffer anguish every day, not knowing what has happened to their loved one; they are victims, too. They often encounter social isolation, with relatives and neighbors being too afraid to offer aid or support. If the disappeared person was the main breadwinner for the family, they can also suffer economic hardship."

While these paragraphs talk about disappearance enforced by countries, typically the totallitarian ones or ones where the rule of the law is not respected, there are also cases where people, usually helpless ones such as children or young women, are abducted or enticed. In the film Slumdog Millionnaire, for example, a cold-blooded man lured the children living in the slum in Mumbai with bottles of coke, then made them blind and forced them to beg for him. Similar stories are often heard from across the border of Hong Kong.

Do not think that just because you happen to live in a democratic or relatively safe country, such a thing will not happen to you or someone you hold dear. Here in Hong Kong, once in a while there are high profile news story about some girls or children suddenly evaporating.

Should such an unfortunate thing happen to your dear one, a website like www.personsmissing.org, which provides information and a registration service, should offer some hope and help.

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