There will be protection for more than 150 thousand victims of forced disappearance in Colombia

(Translated by Costanza Generali, a CSN Volunteer Translator)

“The victims of disappearance have lived without protection in this country,” the High Commissioner for Peace, Sergio Jaramillo, recognized during the roundtable discussion: “What is being agreed in the Havana?” that took place in the House Museum of the Memory in Medellin.

He announced that this situation will soon change, beginning with the creation Special Unit for the Search of Persons Counted as Desaparecidos (forcefully disappeared) in Colombia, which draws from the agreements between the government and the FARC regarding victims.

Jaramillo expressed that “the end of the conflict does not mean just putting an end to military threat. It means being able to provide answers to people about what happened, and providing answers to the families of the desaparecidos.”  He categorized the issue as a moral obligation and at once legal by the International Human Law.

The announcements were ratified this Wednesday October 28 in the meeting of the National Commission for the Search of Desaparecidos, in which are present the Town Counsel for the Defense, Jorge Armando Otálora; the director of Legal Medicine, Carlos Váldez; the Presidential Advisor on Human Rights, Guillermo Rivera; the District Attorney, Jorge Perdomol; and Janeth Bautista, representative of the victims.

After the meeting, the Peace Commission member informed that “the FARC committed to turn over the remains of persons who died by their power.” He added that it is not necessary to wait for a final agreement in order to begin searching for the desaparecidos.

The search committee plans to have four months to intensify operations of search and identification. In that regard, the director of Legal Medicine, along with the District Attorney’s Office, announced that a Unit of Criteria and Standards has already been established to search for the bodies of unidentified persons.

The Special Search Unit will be extrajudicial
The Special Unit for the Search of Desaparecidos will of course be of humanitarian nature; but it will also be extrajudicial, without this denying or preventing judicial work, clarified the Peace Commission member.

By giving it an extrajudicial nature, the hope is to quicken the search for desaparecidos and facilitate that people offer information with more tranquility.

“The only mission of the Unit is to find the desaparecidos, the remains of the desaparecidos, or failing that, the best information possible,” pronounced Sergio Jaramillo.

One of the principal characteristics of this process will be the participation of victims and of victims’ organizations, who will be active in the process of searching, identifying, and appropriately delivering remains.

The Unit will also have a territorial focus and will perform field work to compile information from people and communities, and to move forward with ground searches.

“This unit must be of high caliber. It must have the capacity and political weight to push all institutions and the system towards results. They must have all the human resources and materials necessary,” concluded the Peace Commission.

Finally, it must be stated that this institution will have three central tasks: establishing the network of disappeared persons; centralizing the information of the State, of those who participated in the disappearances, of families and communities; and obviously, to find the desaparecidos.

The numbers don’t add up
On October 1 of 2015, the Unique Registry of Victims in Colombia had registered 159,615 victims of forced disappearance in Colombia. Of these, more than 45,500 are direct victims and more than 114,000 are indirect. In Antioquia the URV reports 38,430 additional victims of this same incident.

However, in Colombia there exist various registries of victims of forced disappearance, between which the numbers do not match up. According to the sources consulted by ¡Basta Ya! – the human rights organizations ASFADDES, CINEP, the Inter Ecclesiastical Commission Justice and Peace, Colombia Nunca Más, and the United States-European Union Cooperation – have documented 5,016 cases of forced disappearance in the country.

“If the cases registered by human rights organizations and the relatives of desaparecidos are considered,[1] the victims of forced disappearance will outnumber the figures of the URV for the period 1970-1990. In this interval, the first two groups report 2,436 desaparecidos, while the URV registers 693 cases between 1985 and 1990. This difference obeys, to a great extent, the provisional delimitation of the coordinates established by the Law 1448 of 2011 regarding incidents of violence occurred from January 1st of 1985 on. This suggests that there exist at least 2,000 disappeared persons desaparecidos whose cases must be verified and evaluated in order to define their inclusion in the URV during the period 1970-1990.” (CNMH. 2013. p. 58)

In addition to the data from human rights organizations and relatives of victims, the country has “the National Registry of Desaparecidos, that up until November of 2011 reported 50,891 cases, of which it is presumed that 16,907 correspond to forced disappearances, while the URV registered, until this moment, 25,007 persons forcibly disappeared as a result of armed conflict.” (CNMH. 2013. p. 58)

The previous information establishes that there is no consolidated data on the number of victims of forced disappearance in Colombia, partly due to the subregistry that has existed about this victimizing incident and the continuity itself of the conflict that obstructs searching and reporting. For this reason the first task of the special unit will be establishing the network of victims of forced disappearance.

Colombia exceeds the drama of Latin America
The report ¡Basta ya! of the National Center of Historical Memory says that the magnitude of forced disappearance in Colombia “can only be understood once it is confirmed that the crime exceeds the occurrences of military dictatorships in the southern cone of Latin America: 485 forced disappearance in Paraguay between 1958 and 1988; 979 in Chile between 1973 and 1990; and around 9,000 in Argentina during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.” (CNMH. 2013. p. 58)

This means that Colombia, with 45,000 direct victims of forced disappearance, far exceeds the occurrences in Paraguay, Chile, and Argentina.

“A few days ago the BBC headlined that Colombia was the democracy with the greatest number of desaparecidos in Latin America,” commented the Peace Commission member, Sergio Jaramillio. “That cannot surprise us, when we have had the longest and bloodiest conflict of the continent. The numbers of forced disappearance intensify as the conflict intensifies. In the years 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 we had a tremendous number of forced disappearances.”

The member added that this crime against humanity has been committed by all actors in the conflict, as there exist cases of victims of forced disappearance by State agents; cases caused by the guerrillas, as well as situations of children recruited without the family’s knowing; and cases by paramilitary groups.

Of the 5,016 cases documented by human rights organizations, “a presumed author of the crime was established in only 689 cases. Of this total, 290 were disappeared by members of the Police Force, which corresponds to 42.2%; 246 by paramilitary groups, equaling 41.8%; 137 disappearances, or 19.9%, were attributed to other armed forces; and finally 16, or 2.3%, of the total were attributed to the guerrillas.” (CNMH. 2013. p. 37)

The majority of these victims have faced decades of misconduct, since “despite the heroic efforts by district attorneys, it cannot be said that institutions have searched for the desaparecidos in due manner,” expressed Sergio Jaramillo. But at last it seems that the moment has come to put an end to this drama.

[1] ASFADES, Relatives Colombia, Foundation Nidia Erika Bautista, CINEP, Interecclesiastic Commission on Justice and Peace, Colombia Nunca Más Project


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