A call for the safe return of Santiago Maldonado, who disappeared one month ago

Press release
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FIDH and its member organisation in Argentina, the Comité de Acción Jurídica (Committee for Legal Action), express their profound concern for the physical and psychological wellbeing of Santiago Maldonado, missing for one month. They call on the Argentine state to take urgent and exceptional measures to determine the young man’s whereabouts and to move forward with the necessary criminal and disciplinary investigations to ascertain what happened to Santiago and to punish those responsible for his disappearance.

"Today, the international day of the victims of forced disappearances, it is essential that the Argentine government commit publicly to doing everything it can to establish what happened to Santiago Maldonado."

Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President

It is deplorable that, despite strong evidence pointing to a forced disappearance, the public prosecutor only began to pursue this line of enquiry 25 days after Santiago went missing. It is well known that in cases of forced disappearance the first few hours are crucial in locating the missing person. It was not until Friday 25 August that the public prosecutor submitted a request to the judge to have the case reclassified as a forced disappearance in accordance with Article 124 of the Argentine Criminal Code.

"Working from this hypothesis, and as forced disappearance is a crime that in Argentina can only be committed by the State, the burden of proof in this case is reversed, and it is for the Argentine government to prove that no forced disappearance took place. Only after this hypothesis has been discounted can others be put forward,"

the organisations stated.

According to witnesses, on 1 August 2017 Santiago Maldonado, age 28, was seized by members of the Gendarmerie as he hid in scrubland to escape the heavy crackdown on Mapuche protesters who were staging a road blockade. He was beaten and thrown into a white van belonging to the Gendarmerie.
Although the incident was immediately reported by the Mapuche community and by Argentine NGOs, the authorities took no action, waiting until national and international pressure had mounted before acknowledging the case and starting a search.

Santiago’s disappearance is set against a backdrop of ongoing social protest on the part of the Mapuche community (Lof in resistance of the Cushamen Department, Chubut province), which is demanding the recovery of ancestral lands. These protests have been met with brutal repression by the Argentina authorities, who are reported to have fired both rubber and lead bullets and to have burned items belonging to Mapuche families, including their traditional textiles, in order to intimidate them, in response to their legitimate claims. Such repressive acts are far from new. The Mapuche community has been stigmatised by successive governments throughout the history of Argentina. It is therefore important that security measures be put in place to prevent the Mapuche becoming the victims of retaliatory actions.

We hope that forced disappearance, one of the gravest forms of aggression, is not set to become the next phase in the escalating use of intimidation and repression against social protesters from the Mapuche community and the wider Argentine population.

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