"It is the most devastating experience to have a child pulled out of your arms. My boy 'disappeared' and 48 hours later his
mutilated body was found. Since then I have received numerous threats, anonymous letters, telephone terror and I am also
certain that my telephone is tapped. I want to pursue my son's case. Many friends and colleagues have asked me to stop: "the
one who seeks the battle should not complain about the wounds". But I know there are tens of thousands of relatives who have
been affected by the violence. I will never advise the women I work with to forget, I will tell them that they must speak.
20.000-30.000 did not join, out of fear of reprisals to other relatives".
Manorani Saravanamuttu, physician and human rights activist from the "Mothers' Front" in Sri Lanka.
In dozens of countries there have been set up 'committees of relatives of the disappeared'. The oldest and most famous
one is the group of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. In the late seventies, when the policy of 'disappearances'
was carried out to extremes, the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo started their weekly demonstrations at the Plaza. With their
white head-shawls, symbolizing the napkins of their children, they achieved fame all over the world. But also in other
continents and countries like Morocco, Turkey, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, committees of relatives demand clarification
about the fate of the 'disappeared' and killed relatives. One example among others is the group 'Comadres' from El Salvador.
Comadres was set up in 1977, when 'disappearances' were the order of the day in El Salvador. The group came into exi stence
because relatives of 'disappeared' persons felt the need to share their grief with partners in misfortune and to unite forces
with them. At the moment Comadres is working on 4,000 cases of 'disappearances', an emotionally arduous job for the relatives.
On the one hand the women know that their 'disappeared' husbands and children problably have been killed, on the other hand,
as long as the body hasn't been found there is always a spark of hope that makes them believe that one day the missing person
may return home. This glimmer of hope gives strength to the organization: the fight goes on.
Meanwhile the women of Comadres have extended their activities. They are involved in human rights education. On the social and
economic level they undertake joint activities too. Because of the 'disappearance' of their husbands or sons, the economic
situation of the women, already belonging to the economic lower class, has become worse. Most of them demand financial
compensation from the government. But financial compensation isn't the most important issue; much more important is the
social, mental and political support. Finally, the women of Comadres are trying to get psychological help for children who
have been traumatized by the events that took place during the civil war in El Salvador.
On the 16th of January 1992, the peace agreements, that ended a decade of civil war, were signed. Now there is peace in El
Salvador, but this doesn't mean that the underlying problems have been solved. After the report of the U.N. Truth Commission
was published in March 1993, the government of El Salvador proclaimed a general amnesty. As a consequence, victims of human
rights violations risk to run across their torturers in the streets. An adverse effect of the peace agreements is that the
support for Comadres from abroad has ended. For outsiders the problems in El Salvador have been solved. Yet death-squads are
still operating and the real job, the struggle against impunity, has yet to begin.
Committees like Comadres are among the most active and concerned human rights organizations in their country. These committees
are indispensable for disclosing human rights violations from the past and for preventing impunity. All these organizations
are in need of financial means, international attention and contacts with other committees. There is just enough money to
conduct a few activities but not nearly enough to support the stricken families in building a new life. Because of the lack of
money only a few committees have a chance to attend international meetings abroad where they can get in contact with other
committees. In a recent conversation with one of the women of FIND, a Fillippine committee, it became clear that they are
aware of existing committees for instance in Latin America, but that they never had the chance to exchange personal
experiences, information, working-methodsand strategies.
From 1 August 1995 HOM, the Netherlands Humanist Committee on Human Rights, with support of the Dutch Section of Amnesty
International and Dutch Interchurch Aid, is working on a project called "Linking Solidarity". The objective of this project is
to support the work of the committees of relatives by facilitating structural and effective contacts between those committees
and with sympathizing organizations from abroad. The objectives of "Linking Solidarity" is fourfold.
The first purpose of the project consists of documenting committees of relatives of the 'disappeared': addresses, persons to
be contacted, kind of organization, objectives, activities, contacts with other committees, contacts with other ngo's,
finances, what support that the committee is looking for and possible political affiliations. Where so desired, the
information will be treated confidentially.
The second purpose is a consequence of the first: to facilitate contacts between on one hand the committees of relatives of
the 'disappeared' and on the other hand with other organizations with a similar constituency. For example: a committee that is
set up from a church-based organization can be linked with a church-based organization from abroad.
The third purpose is to give information to the press, the public and to interested organizations about the activities and
problems of the committees of relatives of the 'disappeared' and about related subjects, such as the fundamental value of
these committees in preventing impunity.
The fourth purpose is to contribute to the support of activities that are undertaken by the committees in co-operation with
other committees, as by creating the possibility for committees to meet each other at international conferences, or by
attempting to bring the committees in contact with international human rights organizations.
WHAT WE NEED
In gathering information, "Linking Solidarity" is dependent on the support of others. Therefore we ask you to contact us if
you have any information about:
- committees of relatives of the 'disappeared', and if possible, reports of seminars, meetings and conferences on the
phenomenon of 'disappearances' or committees of relatives.
- seminars or meetings which could be interesting for the committees as well as for "Linking Solidarity".
Those who want to support this project financially can do so through a donation on giro account number 1460115, attention of
"HOM Linking solidarity".
For further information please contact Henriėtte Stratmann at the office of the Netherlands Humanist Committee on Human Rights