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‘Denial and silence’ or ‘acknowledgement and disclosure’

31-12-2002 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 848, by Magriet Blaauw, Virpi Lähteenmäki

This article addresses the psychological problems that families of missing persons may encounter. By looking at the complicated process of bereavement which may ensue if families are unable to carry out farewell ceremonies and death rituals for their missing relatives, the author discusses the importance of a comprehensive understanding of the problematic if family members of missing persons are to be properly assisted.


Magriet Blaauw,
MD, Masters Degree in International Health.  
Virpi Lähteenmäki, Psychologist, Masters Degree in Human Rights, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture (IRCT), Denmark. 
 This paper addresses the problems family members of forced disappeared persons may encounter. Forced disappearances are surrounded by fear and silence. Feelings of hope, the lack of an official disclosure, and economic, social and legal problems may all complicate the daily lives of those searching for their relatives year after year. Farewell ceremonies and death rituals have the important function of recognising the life and achievements of a deceased person. Since the whereabouts of disappeared persons are not known, a farewell ceremony is normally not performed for them. It is important for the persons giving support to relatives of disappeared persons to recognise differences in mourning and death rituals. Normal signs of bereavement can mislead a clinician who is not aware of these cultural differences. The article describes how the complex circumstances that family members of disappeared have to face may lead to complicated grief. Family members of forced disappeared persons are in principle entitled to reparation. However, for most of them this is not a reality. Pursuing reparation is associated with many difficulties. There is a need for a comprehensive understanding of the complex problem of disappearances in order to properly assist family members of missing persons.  
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