Colombia: Effective Missing Persons Process

Colombia 4

Sunday’s provincial and municipal polls in Colombia were hailed as possibly the country’s “last war-time elections”, since the Government and the FARC guerrilla movement achieved a breakthrough in peace negotiations in Havana last month, committing themselves to conclude a final peace agreement by March 2016.

On 17 October the two sides agreed to create a special unit to search for the missing when the final peace agreement is signed.

ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today that concrete progress towards peace has opened the door to tackling one of the major issues created by half a century of conflict.

“Colombia is facing an enormous challenge in addressing the issue of missing persons. The numbers are vast and the political and legal hurdles will be numerous.  However, successfully locating and identifying the missing is a necessary step to upholding the law, including ensuring that families are able to access rights and that perpetrators are brought to justice,” she said.

ICMP worked extensively in Colombia between 2008 and 2010; among other things, ICMP advised on the 2010 law that codified aspects of the country’s approach to accounting for the missing; it helped to draft the first public report on enforced disappearances in the country; and it provided training for Colombian forensic scientists in DNA extraction.

“Over the years Colombia has made progress in setting in place the legal and institutional mechanisms to locate and identify missing persons,” Bomberger said. “There is now an opportunity to reinvigorate these efforts and to ensure that Colombia creates a sustainable process to find all missing persons, regardless of the circumstances of their disappearance.  ICMP stands ready to work with Colombia to carry this process forward.”

Family members of the disappeared were among those who participated in the Havana negotiations. The commitment by both sides to provide information on the whereabouts of clandestine graves, if fulfilled, will hugely accelerate the effort to account for missing persons.

Chief government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said the 19 October agreement responded to Colombia’s obligations under international humanitarian law, while FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez said victims’ families must participate in the process of accounting for the missing, and their right to justice must be upheld. Colombian law stipulates measures to provide families with access to justice and reparation.

For more about ICMP’s work in Colombia, see