Colombia’s Vibrant and Diverse Civil Society Organizations Play a Key Role in Supporting the Search for Missing Persons

By Angelica Aparicio and Laura Manrique

Bogota, 29 October 2020 – Civil society organizations (CSOs) and families of the missing are fundamental to Colombia’s efforts to account for missing persons and need support from national authorities and the international community to fulfil their important role.

That was the message delivered by speakers in online discussion hosted this month by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ).

Discussions during the 13 October event  were based on a recent ICMP report that maps the work of Colombia’s vibrant and diverse civil society organizations, including family associations and other networks that support the Colombian Government in finding the more than 120,000 persons who are estimated missing from Colombia’s more than 50 years of conflict. The event was streamed live and is available on ICMP’s Spanish Facebook page.

The Director of Colombia’s Search Unit for Missing Persons (UBPD), Luz Marina Monzón, praised the work of families of the missing and noted that her institution – a state institution tasked with leading the country’s efforts to account for the missing – works to strengthen civil society participation.

“This (ICMP) mapping document helps strengthen our strategies on how to involve organizations and family associations in our actions,” she said. “Their experiences and knowledge help us respond efficiently. The voices of the victims are needed to improve the UBPD’s efforts.”

Representatives from eight of the more than 100 family associations and CSOs included in the ICMP report spoke at the event, describing their work and the challenges they face.

“Many of the civil society organizations have requested that our loved ones are found, whether they are alive or dead. We must be the main actors in efforts to account for the missing”, said Mayerlis Angarita, a representative of the Family Association Narrar para Vivir.

Emerson Rojas, from the CSO ACOMIDES, added: “We, as leaders of the organizations, must keep working to find the truth. The main challenge is the participation – it is crucial that organizations participate in the (government) system” to account for missing persons.

The ICMP report, the first of its kind in Colombia, highlights the central role played by civil society in ensuring that the state fulfils its obligation to investigate all missing persons cases, regardless of the timeframe or circumstance of their disappearance, and that it secures the rights of all families of the missing. It notes that Colombian civil society acts as the “motor that has brought progress in the development of policies and institutions on the issue of disappearance.”

Rebecca Rust, Coordinator of the GIZ’s Program ProPaz, told event participants that the report helps advance Colombia’s missing persons effort by providing a “starting point for us who work in peacebuilding activities.”

Deborah Ruiz Verduzco, ICMP’s Head of Civil Society Initiatives, mentioned: “Despite the difficult security conditions, and other challenges, family associations and CSOs working on the issue of the missing continue their courageous work to mobilize political will and contribute to efforts to ensure that Colombia guarantees victims’ rights.” said

Martina Ceravolo, Deputy Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation in Colombia, reiterated the EU’s support to UBPD during the event. She noted that disappearances harm Colombia, and that accounting for the missing is a key component of peace building.

Other speakers at the event included representatives of the Truth Commission, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, the FARC Search Commission of Missing Persons, the Fundación Nydia Érika Bautista, ASFADDES, Familiares Colombia-Línea Fundadora, FAVIDESC and MOVICE.

Speakers at the event outlined the ICMP report, which includes information on how the families have organized themselves into civil society groups. By characterizing civil society in Colombia’s regions, the report could support the development of the UBPD’s Regional Search Plans. The report aims to create a broader understanding of how civil society organizations’ work can support the country’s search for missing persons.

The research phase of the report was supported by GIZ. The publication of the report was financed by the European Union through its Foreign Policy Instruments.

The Peace Agreement mandates ICMP to support the Search Unit’s and Colombia´s efforts to account for missing persons. ICMP has been assisting Colombia since 2019 through supporting the work of the Search Unit, and the participation of civil society organizations, particularly families of the missing.

About ICMP

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.