A man poses for a photo with a portrait of Santiago Maldonado, during a demonstration to demand actions to find him in Buenos Aires, Argentina, August 11, 2017. 

© 2017 Marcos Brindicci/Reuters

Pressure is building on Argentina to find 28-year-old Santiago Maldonado, who has been missing, possibly the victim of an enforced disappearance, since security forces broke up a protest in southern Argentina on August 1.

Maldonado, who was visiting a Mapuche indigenous community in Cushamen, in the southern province of Chubut, was reportedly last seen by local residents when the Gendarmerie – a federal security force – intervened to disperse a demonstration on August 1. The press reported that Maldonado was there to support the Mapuches’ land claims and opposition to the extradition of an indigenous leader, Jones Huala, sought by Chilean authorities for his alleged participation in setting a building on fire and trying to burn a member of Chilean security forces in 2013.

Residents reportedly ran towards a nearby river, escaping from members of security forces who shot bullets and pellets towards them. Some residents said they saw Maldonado stay behind and heard the security officers say, “here we have one” and “you’re under arrest.” Another resident claims to have seen security agents beat a man, and others say they saw the agents force someone into a van. Although no one could see who was placed inside the van, the community claims no one else from the community is unaccounted for.

Last week, the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances urged the Argentine government to take swift action to find Maldonado. Under international law, an enforced disappearance occurs when state agents detain a person but refuse to acknowledge the detention or refuse to provide information on the whereabouts or fate of the detainee.

Prosecutors have found evidence, including hair, at a Gendarmerie base, which is currently being evaluated as part of an ongoing investigation. On August 14, two members of the Mapuche community declared before the judge investigating the case that they saw the Gendarmerie take Maldonado away, according to press reports.

Government officials, including Patricia Bullrich, the security minister, and Claudio Avruj, the human rights secretary, have said that the government is actively searching for Maldonado. Bullrich said on August 11 that there was no record of Maldonado being detained, and she is scheduled to provide a comprehensive report on the case before a Senate commission on August 16.

When someone goes missing, no matter under which circumstances, time is of the essence. This is all the more important when the person may have been forcibly disappeared by security forces. The Argentine government should prioritize efforts to ensure the investigation is effective and capable of determining what happened to Maldonado and his whereabouts in the shortest period of time.