The Disappeared

Where do the disappeared go?
Search for them in the water and the wastelands.
Why are they disappeared?
Because we are not all equal.
When do the disappeared return?
Each time our thoughts bring them back, with the pain that grips inside. Rueben Blades, Los Desaparecidos

Bertha Oliva Nativí is a prominent Honduran human rights defender, a founder and coordinator of the Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). COFADEH, was formed in 1982 by 12 families, victims of forced disappearance, with one clear objective: to recover their family members who had been disappeared by the State – and to bring them home alive.

Forced disappearance, a form of terror and psychological torture, was used against social movement leaders during the US-sponsored counterinsurgency wars of the 1980’s in Central America.

In 1981, Bertha’s husband, Professor Tomas Nativi, was taken by State forces at gunpoint from her home. They also killed his friend whose body was left in the house with Bertha who was blindfolded and bound. She was three months pregnant at the time. Her husband has never been seen since.

COFADEH has registered 184 cases of forced disappearance from the decade of the 80s. In addition, there are dozens of disappearances that were never reported. James («Guadalupe») Carney, a US Jesuit priest, is one of the 184 registered cases; his face appears with the disappeared at COFADEH and in public vigils held each month in the Plaza de la Merced.

COFADEH appeals to the national and international systems of justice. Several of their cases involving the murder and forced disappearance of social movement leaders reached the Inter American Court of Human Rights.

Following the 2009 US-backed military coup in Honduras, forced disappearance surfaced again as a practice of state-sponsored terror targeting social movement leaders. Despite incredible risk to herself, Bertha continues to struggle tirelessly against impunity, for justice, truth and
respect for human rights.

On the door to her office, is a life-size silhouette of her husband, Tomas Nativi. Thirty-eight years later, Bertha continues her search.