Bogota, 27 August 2020: The achievements and challenges of more than 100 associations of families of the missing in Colombia, and other civil society organizations that are working on the country’s enormous missing persons challenge are detailed in a mapping report released by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) today.
The publication, the first of its kind for Colombia, compiles ICMP data on the work of civil society organizations, including family associations of missing persons and other networks that are involved in the arduous effort to account for the more than 120,000 persons who are estimated missing from Colombia’s more than 50 years of conflict. It was launched as part of ICMP’s activities to commemorate the International Day of the Disappeared, observed globally on 30 August.
“This mapping acknowledges and appreciates the persistence and driving force that families of missing persons provide to national actors and members of the international community to carry out the remaining tasks”, Patricia Llombart, the EU Ambassador to Colombia, states in the foreword.
The publication 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 to secure the rights of all families of the missing. ICMP notes in the report that Colombia civil society acts as the “motor that has brought progress in the development of policies and institutions on the issue of disappearance”.
The report is the result of a consultative process conducted by ICMP throughout Colombia. It describes the development of civil society groups that grew to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of families of the missing, from the creation in 1982 of Colombia’s first family organization, ASFADDES, to the establishment of new organizations that participated in the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement.
“The Mapping Report highlights the crucial, constructive and persistent role that Colombian civil society and families of the missing have played not only in highlighting the issue of missing persons, but ensuring state responsibility, including the creation of the Search Unit in the Peace Agreement,” said ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger. “Our hope is that the report will help strengthen and unite Colombian civil society organizations in their efforts to achieve the common goal of finding missing persons and ensuring peace and stability.”
The expertise developed by the civil society organizations in the areas of advocacy, legal representation, documentation and memory is outlined in the report, which also examines the many challenges faced by these groups, including funding and security risks.
The report notes that many civil society organizations are led by “dynamic and professional women” who have achieved progress despite obstacles. It documents the work of human rights organizations that mobilized in response to crimes committed by different perpetrators, including state agents, guerrillas and paramilitary groups; of groups advocating for families with missing relatives who were police officers and members of armed forces, and of the Alternative Revolutionary Force for the Common (FARC) and its Missing Persons Commission, which as a civil society organization helps account for missing persons as part of a Peace Agreement commitment.
John León, a member of the FARC Commission for the Search of Missing Persons said it was crucial to identify the situation of those involved in the search for missing persons. “This is a fundamental step in the implementation of the Peace Agreement and the reparation of victims – and it is an exercise that we must continuously update.”
Gloria Gómez, coordinator of ASFADDES said the mapping was an important achievement that “allows us not only to strengthen the search, but also to know who is fighting to eradicate impunity and whom with their actions are rebuilding the social structure in the country.”
Bertha Suárez, director of the civil society group Rosa Blanca Corporation, said the publication makes groups like hers more visible, thereby enabling them to strengthen activities and uniting around shared concerns. “When the families of persons reported missing in the armed conflict organize themselves the impact is stronger and the difficulties are assumed by all.”
The report also highlights how these organizations support the work of institutions created through the peace agreement, including the Colombia’s Search Unit of Missing Persons (UBPD), the Truth Commission (CEV) and the Special Peace Jurisdiction (JEP), which are tasked by the 2016 Peace Agreement to ensure that victims of the armed conflict have access to their rights.
ICMP is a treaty-based international 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, migratory routes 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.
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.
The research phase of the report was supported by the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ). The publication of the report was financed by the European Union through its Foreign Policy Instruments.
The report, as of now available in Spanish only, can be accessed here.
For more information or to request interviews, please contact the ICMP.