The phrase Damnatio Memoriae is a Latin term describing the Roman practice of erasing an individual from history. Normally this treatment was reserved for Emperors or society elites that brought disdain upon the Roman community. Their names were erased from public records, statues and physical representations were deformed, and their personal property was redistributed to local polities. Even coins were re-minted to remove the name and images of these despised people. Often it was forbidden to speak of those individuals, ensuring all traces of them where forgotten.
|Image of the desaparecidos from the Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo|
This ancient capability to erase an individual’s existence occurs today with an act known as forced disappearances. These disappearances, which happen during times of civil conflict, result in an individual being secretly abducted by a government regime, which then denies the existence of the individual. More often than not, the individual is killed and the body is disposed of, as if the individual had vanished. Since the offending party asserts no knowledge of the person in question, the inquiring family is stifled into silence, threatened from making any further claims
|Map of South America|
Operation Condor was a movement of political repression that stretched across a majority of South America during the mid-seventies. The goal, set in place by the right-wing dictatorships, was to eradicate individuals who held communist and socialist ideals, and to control counter-government movements. Under this plan, administrations could persecute individuals who had fled from their homes into neighboring countries. The countries which participated in this movement are shown on the left in dark green, while the light green countries were only sporadic participants. All together, over 60,000 disappearances can be attributed to this operation.
Although many individuals disappeared without a trace, some were buried in mass graves located all over South America. The application of forensic techniques in identifying bodies interred in mass graves can be used for judicial purposes, to document human rights abuses and provide evidence for tribunals, as well as for humanitarian purposes, in assisting families with recovering their loved ones. The excavation of these mass graves can also contribute to the historical reconstruction of the past, as it is not uncommon for a national amnesia to be imposed, hiding unwarranted civilian deaths. It creates a voice for individuals who had been silenced, allowing them to share their stories and move past their fears.
Amnesty International Enforced Disappearances
EAAF Mission Statement