(Translated by Steve Cagan, a CSN volunteer translator)
“For 16 years I have been going through cemeteries. I go everywhere in them, and I cannot find the place to put the flowers or to put the cross.”
Said with sadness by Lucila Restrepo, these words were heard with respect by dozens of people gathered in the Plaza Botero at the end of the March of Silence that took place last Saturday, August 30, to commemorate the International Day of the Detained Disappeared under the motto: No More Disappeared.
“Like me, many mothers have not the place to put their flowers or to put their cross. Please, help us find them,” called out the aged mother, affected by one of the great tragedies that the armed conflict has visited on the country: forced disappearance.
In Medellín there was a short march, silent, filled with pain but also with hope, which set out from the Parque Bolívar at 1 PM. In its brief route, relatives and friends of detained disappeared people from different epochs once again displayed the faces of their husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends, with the intention of avoiding loss of memory and demanding justice.
Carried out in diverse cities around the world, especially in Latin America, where the drama of the detained disappeared has been a historical constant, the call for this march went out for the second year in a row and responds to a demand of Nations that this crime be ended. In the Antioquian capital, the march was promoted by the Movimiento Nacional de Víctimas de Crimenes del Estado (The National Movement of Victims of State Crimes) and the Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Semillas de Libertad (Seeds of Liberty Human Rights Collective)
Voices against the loss of memory:
María Elena Saldarriaga walked the route convinced that in the face of this crime, considered a crime against humanity in international humanitarian law, it is not possible to be silent. “We have to mobilize and be sensitive to such and atrocious crime.”
Her tragedy began on Thursday, August 18, 1994. “My husband was a worker in the Leonisa company. After his shift, two cars with heavily-armed men came. They detained him and they took him to an unknown destination. Today, fourteen years later, we continue looking for him and hoping.”
In Antioquia, the Attorney General of the nation has documented 7,000 cases of forced disappearance since 1990, and it is estimated that for the whole country the figure is as high as 30,000cases in the last 30 years. However, specialists in the field consider that there is an underestimate which prevents our knowing exactly the dimensions of this crime, which means that the number might be higher.
In Colombia, forced disappearance has been investigated as a crime since 2000, when Law 589 went into effect, which classifies it as a crime and the Comisión Nacional de Busqueda de Personas (National Commission to Search for People) was created. However, during the time it has been in effect, nobody has been convicted.
Forced disappearance is defined as “detention or kidnapping of a person against their will by agents of the government or of organized groups or of private individuals who act in the name of the government or with its direct or indirect support, its authorization or its consent, who refuse to reveal their fate or where they can be found, or to recognize that they are deprived of liberty, thereby removing the protection of the law from them.”
That is Aura’s history: My husband has been disappeared since February 24,soo6.He left Medellín that day for Puerto Boyacá and the paramilitaries disappeared him exactlyin San Pedro de la Paz.” And to the pain of her loss, this woman has to add the impunity which surrounds these cases and the discrimination that they suffer, since, according to her, “kidnapped people have rights and we as relatives of the detained disappeared don’t.”
The stories the families who are victims of forced disappearance tell lead to the conclusion that the victims are not only members of the political opposition, nor members of social movements that work in areas of guerrilla or paramilitary control, but indigents, sex workers, cross-dressers and drug addicts.
Nohelia knows about this: “They disappeared my son, a young cross-dresser on June 6 last year. The discrimination against these people doesn’t end, despite the campaigns, despite the struggle, it doesn’t end,” she said in her anguish, and finished off her testimony with a harsh critique: “The indifference of the authorities hurts. Today the victimizers have more privileges than the victims.”
According to the figures of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the United Nations, there are 41,257 cases pending in 78 countries. Between November, 2006, and November, 2007, the Working Group transmitted 629 new cases of forced disappearances to 29 governments. The last report of the Group, among the ten countries with the most cases of unsolved disappearances, five belong to Latin America: Argentina (3,303), Guatemala (2,899), Peru (2,368), El Salvador (2,270) and Colombia (957).
The local, national and international figures, sustained by the stories of those who suffer them, establish that the atrocious crime of forced disappearance persists as a political practice.That’s why there is validity to the words of Maria Elena, one of the marchers this Saturday in Medellín: It is not possible to be silent. We have to mobilize and be sensitive in the face of this atrocious crime.”
IPC Press Agency