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When reached by the police on June 12, Christensen initially denied that he had met Zhang before. But three days later, when authorities interviewed him again, Christensen admitted that he gave Zhang a ride and let her off a few blocks away from where he had picked her up. They only care about human rights of an American citizen!

We have more than 1, methods to force him to confess.

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She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily. Newsletter Signup Go beyond the headlines to truly understand China. Sign up today! Related articles. Juul products vaporized The editors September 23, In front of them, each year family members pay homage to fourteen disappeared political activists who had also been buried in this common grave.

The reflections proposed for this article began in the sensitive environment of this act, triggered amid the pain, music, prayers, denunciations and requests for justice. The environment also included the presence in solidarity of family members of the victims of police violence since the end of the dictatorship, under democratic governments.

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These are members of humble families, who during the act spoke of their struggle to have their losses recognized as political too. To hear their words, and to observe my own image and that of both groups of families indistinctly reflected by the mirrored tombstones, provoked in me an inevitable sense of identification. This led me to think that during the dictatorship any person could have been the target of disappearance. Thus, the monument appeared to denounce a system of violent acts that affected the whole of society, although in different ways that are not completely understood. Yet, soon after, as I looked at the inscriptions that recorded the names and political organizations to which the 14 people being homage also belonged, I realized that the monument also marked distinctions.


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There were certain victims and a certain kind of violence to which it gave special attention. There was a dynamic movement of approximations and distancings among different types of violence and victims at the event. But, although it may have seemed that this dynamic was explicit in the interaction of the act with the monument, in reality, it was something that occurred at the end of the event had me reconsider. I refer to the curious approach of an older women who was paying homage to her mother, who was buried in a single grave close to the common one. After I explained what we were doing there, she told me she knew the history very well, because her father had participated in demonstrations against the coup of She said she was pleased with the proximity between the monument and the grave of her mother, who liked her nephew very much, because it was as though they are now together.

From then on, she decided she would take them flowers as well.

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Hearing her story troubled me. Particularly because of the way that she related the monument to her missing cousin, without, however, affirming that his absence was a political disappearance. In reality, she ignored me or did not understand when I asked if he was or was not a victim of political disappearance. She refused. Only then, standing in front of the monument, did I look more closely at the list of the disappeared and the dates that they had gone missing: three people in , five in and six in Is it possible that they were the only ones among those murdered by the repressive forces in the city to be buried there in those years?

A few days went by before I realized that something was wrong with my surprise.


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  4. If disappearance is characterized precisely by the lack of information, then should it not be normal for there to be a lack of control over the universe of the disappeared and thus the discovery of new cases? I then realized that this is not the most common perception about political disappearance in Brazil. Different from Argentina, where the data that is most accepted and promoted is based on estimates, which indicate the scope of the phenomenon and the incomplete character of the information, in Brazil, the different actors involved with the theme only disclose precise data, suggesting a phenomenon that is not only restricted, but also grasped in its totality and in the individualities that constitute it.

    If there are distinct truths about disappearance in the different societies in which its practice is identified, it seems to me to be important to understand the processes on which these truths are based, instead of taking them as given. By trying to determine the roots of my disturbance, I realized the importance of placing in perspective the view of political disappearance shared by those who denounce it. Based on this approach, this article explores the discourses that function as truths about the phenomenon in Brazil, seeking to show the methods, procedures and instances by means of which they were sanctioned as such.

    It also looks at the intrinsic relation of this process with the production of political communities, by highlighting the centrality of the voice of the movement of families. In the conclusion, I point to some social implications of the delimitation of a politically relevant violence.

    That year, he was honored at the graduation ceremony of his college. Joana believes that the youth stopped screaming because he had died. She tried to find out the identity of the victim of that torture, but was not able to. To demand more proof would be to ignore the history of repression in Brazil. The case was approved unanimously. Nothing more was known at the time about his destination or whereabouts. More than four decades later, nothing more has been discovered. But while these two absences were equally abrupt and enigmatic, they represent two entirely distinct social phenomenon.

    His disappearance was political. A disappearance is only the absence of a person and any information about their location, with nothing to determine the existence of violence at its origin. In principle, disappeared people may be fatal victims of crimes, but also of accidents, or natural catastrophes. They may have been legally buried as unidentified persons, they may be living and unable to communicate, or simply may not want to be found after escaping or abandoning their home, among other possibilities.

    For this reason, there are various studies that explore the disappearances as the irremediable encounter between human drama and the institutional actions that they provoke. The ambiguity of the facts raises various difficulties for the agents involved, implying the non-existence of regulations and specific guidelines, which complicates the elaboration of policies for confronting the disappearances and assigning responsibilities. But if the violence is instigated by the police to mark the limit of their action in these cases Ferreira , it is also a category commonly used to distinguish types of disappearance.

    Far from being a family problem, a so-called enforced disappearance is considered a human rights violation by international law and a crime against humanity when practiced systematically. This occurs because although the ambiguities shift from the general to the particular in enforced disappearances, they still continue to exist.

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    The fleeting aspect only appears to dissipate when we discuss enforced disappearance at a categorical level. From an institutional perspective, this takes place both because of the lack of legal classification, and because of the common involvement of the police forces themselves in these crimes.

    In fact, in the arenas where it is debated, the modality is usually considered to be precise and well-established. Nevertheless, regardless of the cause, the absence of a person from the locations where they are typically expected to be found is a disconcerting event.

    If it causes disruption in the daily lives of those who feel it, on the other hand, it also inaugurates new routines in which dealing with the uncertainties comes to constitute an attempt at domestication Das , establishing relations between families and state institutions. These are the actors who will classify the absences according to available categories, amid processes that have countless variables but that engender shifts from the peculiarity of facts to the generality of procedures and languages.

    It is in this sense that a political disappearance is not the same as an enforced disappearance. While the later does not take the form of a domestic legal category, political disappearance is established and mobilized by certain state institutions.

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    In its various daily uses, a set of markers operate in various dimensions. We can observe, therefore, that the legal parameters make an attempt at precision, defining the act, the victims, the victimizers and the temporality in which they are inscribed. The so-called Law of the Dead and Disappeared, in addition to reducing the broad universe of cases to those linked to a specific act of violence murder and hiding of the corpse , presumes a second form of clarification based on the distinction between the present and past.

    By this means, the phenomenon is determined as a closed historic episode, which means that we are also considering a mnemonic category, a reference to the constitution of the memorable Candau about the dictatorship, and no less importantly, about the demarcation of its contrasts with democracy. Like forced disappearance, therefore, political disappearance is a term coined to simultaneously circumscribe an experience of extreme violence and project a denunciation.

    In common, they both evoke the set of global processes that mark the twentieth century as a period of overlapping between the emergence of the large utopian narratives and catastrophes of proportions never before seen Hobsbawm But while in the international sphere, notions such as human rights violations and crimes against humanity highlight state responsibilities in relation to the past, present and future, Brazil began its adherence to humanitarian premises by dissociating these two domains.

    The country signed up to this global commitment following the end of the dictatorship, with the enactment of a new constitution and a progressive adhesion to international agreements. In flagrant contradiction to the Constitution, which considered torture to be a crime not susceptible to amnesty, and with the international treaties signed by the country, including those concerning forced disappearance, the Amnesty Law influenced the institutionalization of human rights in Brazil.

    This is announced by the very fact that the first National Human Rights Program PNDH-1 , created by a commitment made at the World Conference on Human Rights, mentioned nothing about the violence acts committed in the immediate past. Although the transition to democracy made it possible to speak of the past in terms of rights and responsibilities, this did not take place initially in the grammar of human rights, but in the political terminology of those who first publicly raised the issue. When speaking about their losses, these actors refer to a conflict that had the nation as its object and the paradigmatic antagonism of the Cold War as its theme.

    The prisons, abrogation of political rights, torture, assassinations, exiles and disappearances perpetrated by the dictatorship would be denounced as instruments mobilized to exclude opponents and to outlaw the political struggle through the use of violence.

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    This brings us to the third mark conferred to political disappearance. This relates the phenomenon to events surrounding the systematic persecution of a specific, although heterogeneous, social group: the opponents of the regime. This, and only this state violence, would be qualified as political.

    This notion of political violence would be projected by those reflections that, from the mids, focused on the combination of losses suffered by militants who fought the dictatorship, perceived as a defeat in the political field. At this time, the notion was already central for those who were in prison or exile, for the family members of the victims and for the networks of solidarity that supported the militants. The notion of resistance is central here. After the amnesty, this movement of denunciations dissipated.

    While surviving victims and victimizers were incorporated to democracy, and seen to be as equivalent under a common pardon, the dead and disappeared remained as disturbing figures for which the solutions of the transitional period were inapplicable. Listed and named as a single group in the Brazilian Amnesty Committees, they were taken up as a cause by their own families and by some of the survivors, who began to organize in small groups.

    Although they were supported by other human rights organizations, they complained of being abandoned by the new social movements and political parties, as well as by a large portion of survivors who adhered to them. One of the most notable efforts in this direction was the Brasil Nunca Mais Brazil, Never Again project, which provided an important response to the broad set of denunciations made by the Amnesty Committees and also adopted the notion of political violence on which these were based.

    The family members adopted the same line of approach by organizing themselves nationally to prove that their dead relatives had been murdered, and that the disappeared were in reality dead.