Human Rights Review

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 335–360 | Cite as

Enforced Disappearance: Family Members’ Experiences

  • Jacqueline AdamsEmail author


The goal of this article is to describe the new experiences that close female family members of disappeared persons have after the enforced disappearance. These relatives experience rupture with their pre-disappearance lives. Their everyday routines cease and the search for the disappeared person takes over. Some relatives experience impoverishment and many lose their children or spouse to emigration. Parts or all of their extended family cut off ties, friendships end, and some neighbors avoid them. A local humanitarian or human rights organization and an association of relatives of disappeared persons come to occupy a central place in relatives’ lives and become “like a second family.” Focusing on enforced disappearance during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, this research is based on interviews with relatives of people who disappeared, on a year’s participant observation with a group of these relatives, and on the examination of relatives’ denunciatory art (dissident pictures in cloth called “arpilleras”).


Consequences of enforced disappearance Family experiences of disappearance Family members of disappeared persons Associations of relatives of disappeared persons Agrupación de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos Vicaría de la Solidaridad Comité de Cooperación para la Paz en Chile Human rights organizations Political dissidents Politicide State violence under dictatorship Repression under dictatorship Military regime Chile under Pinochet Latin American authoritarian regimes 



I am very grateful to the relatives of the disappeared in Santiago, Chile, who generously allowed me to interview them and to be a participant observer at their weekly meetings and performances for a year. I thank Victoria Díaz Caro for her help with revising part of the manuscript and for her assistance with accessing photographs of arpilleras. I am grateful to Verónica Sánchez at the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos in Santiago for her help with finding arpilleras and for allowing me to publish them. I thank Geneviève Jacques of CIMADE, Paris, and María Paz Vergara Low of the Fundación de Documentación y Archivo de la Vicaría de la Solidaridad, Santiago, for their permission to reprint photographs. I wish also to thank the director and chief librarian of the Musée Voltaire in Geneva. I am grateful to Winnie Lira for having helped me make contact with the relatives and to the Institut pour le Travail Féminin in Zurich for having funded part of the research.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California at BerkeleyInstitute for the Study of Societal IssuesBerkeleyUSA

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