Enforced Disappearances Continue in Colombia

Report
from ABColombia
Published on 30 Aug 2013 View Original

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance - 30 August - is an important moment to highlight the ongoing use of enforced disappearance in Colombia, the harassment and obstacles faced by human rights defenders and victims’ families in their search for truth, justice and reparations, as well as the widespread impunity for perpetrators of this crime.

Over the course of Colombia’s fifty year conflict thousands of individuals have been forcibly disappeared. Despite the peace talks currently underway, enforced disappearance continues to be used in Colombia's armed conflict as a method for intimidating and removing civilians, human rights defenders and community leaders. According to a UN report, ‘enforced disappearance continues to be a persistent practice’ in Colombia.

Enforced disappearance has a devastating impact on the victims' families, who live in uncertainty with the continued hope that their loved ones are still alive, while also being deprived of a body to lay to rest.

However, estimates for victims of enforced disappearance vary considerably. This is partly due to difficulties of denouncing and obtaining evidence of this crime, and is also because figures for enforced disappearances are often not collated separately, making it extremely difficult to confirm the total number of disappearances which were enforced.

In November 2011, the Colombian National Registry of Disappeared Persons reported a total number of 50,891 cases of disappearance. Of these, 16,907 are presumed to be enforced disappearances, according to the definition of enforced disappearance in Colombian Law. Additionally, in 2011 the Ministry of Interior published the results of an investigation conducted along with the National Institute of Forensics and the National General Registry in which they could identify just 5,582 bodies out of a total of 22,689 bodies buried without names in public cemeteries throughout the country. In January 2013 alone, there were over 400 cases of disappearance reported in the country, with many of these presumed to be enforced disappearances.

During Colombia’s Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council, which took place in April 2013, several States mentioned their concern at the high level of cases of enforced disappearance. Unfortunately, the Colombian Government rejected the recommendation calling for it to accept the competence of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

Colombia ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in July 2012; however, it did not recognise the competence of the Enforced Disappearance Committee to receive and consider communications from or on behalf of victims or from other states parties. This leaves victims and their families without an important recourse to justice.

At least 50,000 Colombian families are searching for the whereabouts of family members. Despite the shocking scale and horror of enforced disappearance in Colombia, it remains largely invisible and underreported in Colombian society. There are many obstacles for victims’ family groups and human rights defenders in their struggle for truth, justice and reparation. Not only do they face stigmatisation and trivialisation of their cases by authorities, but they themselves can be threatened and killed. For example, in April 2013 human rights defender Sofia Lopez, who was working on cases of enforced disappearances in Cauca, was a victim of an attempted kidnapping by unknown assailants.This is just one example of the type of harassments and threats human rights defenders and victims’ family groups face on a daily basis.

Under both the Rome Statute of the ICC, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, ratified by Colombia in 2012, victims' families have the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones. This right is still being denied them by the Colombian Government. Despite the tireless efforts of human rights defenders and victims’ families, there is widespread impunity with 90% of known perpetrators not having been investigated or charged. ABColombia calls for the necessary mechanisms to be put in place by the Colombian Government to address this grave situation, to end impunity, and to provide further protection for the human rights defenders working on this issue.