According to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the term “enforced disappearance” is “considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.
The story of enforced disappearances goes back to Hitler’s Germany. This tactic has been used by governments all over the world to suppress dissent, including in the Philippines, Cyprus, Armenia, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Syria and Turkey.
Forced disappearances were a common tactic used in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. Governments in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Guatemala, and Argentina used the method in coup d’états, civil wars, and other internal conflicts.
Moises Saman has been photographing conflicts all around the world for more than 20 years. He travelled to northern Sri Lanka nearly two years ago to photograph the families of those who are missing or who have been killed in conflicts.
According to Amnesty International, during the civil war in Sri Lanka, thousands of people were killed and between 60,000 and 100,000 people were forcibly disappeared. Twelve years have passed since the civil war in Sri Lanka and now very few people talk about the atrocities that took place there. However, even today, people are still suffering from what they lived through. Bereaved families in Tamil, Sri Lanka, think their children were murdered or thrown into prisons in undisclosed locations.
The Tamil Tigers were the guerilla forces that fought for an independent state in the north of Sri Lanka and were strongly supported by the people of Tamil. According to a United Nations (UN) report, an estimated 40,000 civilians and guerilla members lost their lives in the bombardments carried out by government forces in the last weeks of that war. “The state attacked both the guerrilla fighters and civilians during the end of the war”, the report revealed.
Saman said, “Now there is a protest movement led by mothers searching for their missing children in Tamil. These people want to know what happened to their children”. He added that this helped him to pursue his project in the region. “The signs of the civil war are still there and there are military forces in every corner of the north. People who live there are scared of them.
“I want to make their voices heard”, said Saman who also worked in the Middle East and married a Kurdish woman from Iraqi Kurdistan. Subsequently his work became more personal, but he is still trying to photograph people who are suffering in wars and conflicts.