Publicly exposing abusers through targeted demonstrations

Overview

Tactical Aim: 
Country or Region: 
Organization: 
Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (Children for Identity and Justice Against Forget­fulness and Silence, or H.I.J.O.S)

Hijos por la Identidad y la Justicia contra el Olvido y el Silencio (Children for Identity and Justice Against Forget­fulness and Silence, or H.I.J.O.S) organizes targeted demonstrations in front of the homes of people who have been identified as perpetrators of human rights abuses. These demonstrations, called escraches (“unmaskings”), publicly expose the abusers and allow communities to express their moral condemnation.

H.I.J.O.S., whose members are mostly children of the disappeared, starts by identifying an individual who carried out repression under the military government in Argentina (1976–1983). Then the pre-escrache begins. They talk to local unions, libraries and other social organizations that work in the neighborhood where the perpetrator lives. They hand out pamphlets and organize informal lectures in the neighborhood and in the schools. The purpose of the pre-escrache is to involve the community, whose participation is essential to the success of the tactic. On the day of the escrache, protesters gather at a square or other public place near the target’s home, giving speeches condemning the individual and describing his or her crimes. They post pamphlets on walls with the person’s pho­to, name, address, telephone number and biography. A variety of other actions may be taken when appropriate. A variant of the escrache is the escrache-movil, a mobile demonstration that targets more than one perpetrator, generally in a single neighborhood.

H.I.J.O.S. has legal representation to assist in solving any problems that might arise with the police or with counter-demonstrators, but the key to accomplishing its objective without conflict is to involve as many people as possible in the demonstrations.

After the escrache has finished, the effectiveness of the tactic remains in the hands of the target’s neighbors. Sometimes the response is staggering. There are examples of shops closing or bars becoming empty when an abuser enters. Some abusers who have been targeted have had to move from their own homes because of the social rejection.

 

New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

When perpetrators of abuse are granted impunity, whether by law or de facto, they may go on to lead relatively anonymous lives — sometimes in the same communities as their victims. A group in Argentina decided that, even if perpetrators cannot be prosecuted through the courts, they can be revealed — or “unmasked” — to the general public.

Even though amnesty laws have made it difficult to prosecute some perpetrators, H.I.J.O.S. bypasses political and legal systems to encourage a kind of redress through social ostracism, while making use of humor, theater and other cre­ative demonstrations.

This tactic has some serious risks. People adopting this tactic must be certain that they are targeting the right people and that the demonstrations are not used for other political purposes. Organizers of large demonstra­tions around emotional subjects must have mechanisms in place to prevent the events from degenerating into violence. In some situations, actions like this might turn people in the community against the protesters, as they may not want a disturbance like this in their neighborhood.