Colombian Families of the Missing Discuss Perspectives and Priorities During Visit to ICMP in The Hague

Bogotá, 17 December 2019. From 10 to 13 December in The Hague, the Netherlands, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) brought families of the missing from Colombia together with representatives of families from other countries, as well as experts working in the field of missing persons, for a series of events at which participants exchanged experiences and perspectives.

Fourteen family members from Colombia described the effort being made to address the enormous legacy of missing persons in the country, the work that organizations and families are doing and the challenges and needs faced by  civil society organizations that work  to account for the disappeared.

ICMP organized strategic and technical workshops on topics such as reporting missing persons, data processing, location and exhumation of clandestine graves, and DNA identification. The Hague-based non-profit organization Justice and Peace Netherlands held a course on security for human rights defenders for the visitors.

“These workshops were designed to enable families from Colombia to learn from the experience of other countries that are addressing the issue of missing persons,” the Head of ICMP’s Colombia program, Andreas Forer, said. “Participants will be able to use what they have learned in practice. For example, family representatives from the Western Balkans spoke about the approach that has made it possible to account for more than 70 percent of those who went missing in the conflicts that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia and spoke in detail about processes of data collection and coordination based on the rule of law.”

The visit, which was held in the week of International Human Rights Day, culminated in a “Profiles of the Missing” event at Leiden University. Speakers examined the impact of disappearances on society and the rule of law, and the central role that families of the disappeared can and should play in the implementation of the key provisions of the 2016 Peace Agreement.

Opening the Profiles of the Missing event, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said families of the missing have a fundamental right to truth, justice and reparation. “We recognize your courage,” she told the Colombian family members. “The work you are doing to account for the missing – despite the pain, despite the risk, despite the challenges – commands our gratitude and our respect.”

Pauline Diepenbroek, Deputy Director of the Western Hemisphere Department at the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, said it was “a privilege to be able to share this space with the families” from Colombia. She stressed that the Netherlands is supporting the 2016 Peace Agreement in a number of ways, focusing on transitional justice, and she commended the work being done in Colombia by ICMP.

Edwin Koopman, Latin American correspondent for the Dutch media VPRO and Trouw, moderated the Profiles of the Missing discussion. Key speakers included Gloria Gómez of the Association of Families of Detainees/Disappeared (ASFADDES), Yanneth Bautista of the Nydia Érika Bautista Foundation, Jacqueline Castillo Peña of the Mothers of victims of extrajudicial killings of Soacha, Emerson Rojas Rojas, of the Colombian Association of Military Victims of Kidnapping and Forced Disappearance, and Jhon Fredy León González, a former member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who is now part of the Search Team of the new FARC political group.  Other organizations that participated included the Committee for the Promotion of the Collective Reparation Process of Charras Guaviare, Mothers of Meta and Guaviare, Women Walking for Truth, Mothers for the Life of Buenaventura, Disappeared from the Palace of Justice, Rosa Blanca Corporation, Relatives of Colombia, Fundación Hasta Encontrarlos, and Asovicompi.

On 12 December the group from Colombia travelled to Brussels, Belgium to meet Hilde Hardemann, Director of Foreign Policy Instruments of the European Union, who thanked them for sharing their feelings and their experiences and noted that the Peace Agreement is a priority and the international community must continue to support it. The families presented their views on the peace process, the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, and the challenges and needs faced by civil society organizations working on the issue of disappearances in the country.

The families highlighted the commitments made in the Peace Agreement and the need to support the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-Repetition, as well as families of victims, who should participate effectively in the policy and processes of accounting for the missing. The families highlighted the role of international partners to the Peace Agreement, including ICMP, and the need for the Agreement to be permanent and to be recognized by State institutions in order to deliver effective results. They also called on the international community to maintain its efforts in terms of cooperation and visibility of the problem of disappearances in Colombia.

ICMP is specifically mandated under the 2016 Peace Agreement between the Government and the largest guerrilla group, the FARC, to support the technical capacity of the Search Unit of Persons Listed as Missing and work to strengthen the capacity of civil society to participate in the efforts of the Search Unit. ICMP supports the participation of families in the missing persons process, and promotes their engagement in securing their rights to an effective investigation, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. ICMP’s Colombia program is funded by the European Union.

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.