ICMP Welcomes the Establishment of the Search Unit for Missing Persons in Colombia

The Hague, 7 April 2017: The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) welcomes the decree establishing the Search Unit for Missing Persons in Colombia which was signed by President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogota on Thursday. The Search Unit will be in charge of addressing the issue of missing persons from the 50 year armed conflict. The signing ceremony took place at the Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación in Bogota.

“The decision to establish the Search Unit as part of the peace process underscores the recognition of the importance of resolving the issue of missing persons as an opportunity to advance peace and reinstate the rule-of-law, and thus to enhance confidence in public institutions on a highly emblematic issue,” said Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of ICMP. “The ICMP looks forward to working with the Government of Colombia in enhancing its institutional and legislative capacity to address this challenging and complex issue,” she added.

The issue of missing persons was a central part of the negotiations between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The Final Peace Agreement provides for the establishment of a Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition (SIVJRNR). The Search Unit, which is part of the Integral System, was formally established through a Constitutional Amendment adopted by the Colombian Congress on 13 March 2017. The Integral System also includes the establishment of a Special Criminal Jurisdiction and a Truth Commission.

Under the Final Peace Agreement, the ICMP is mandated to work with the Government of Colombia in the establishment of the Search Unit and in defining the process to appoint its Director.

ICMP is an independent international organization based in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying 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.

ICMP has helped governments to develop legislation to enable families of the missing to assert their rights; and has assisted governments in the excavation of over 3,000 mass graves using advanced forensic techniques. ICMP is perhaps best known for its pioneering use of modern DNA techniques to identify almost 20,000 persons who went missing under a variety of circumstances in different parts of the world. In this regard, ICMP maintains a standing capacity to conduct high throughput human identifications.

ICMP became engaged in Colombia in 2007 following a request by the Prosecutor’s Office and in light of the needs arising from the implementation of the Peace and Justice Law. In 2008, it presented the Government with a comprehensive assessment of needs (ICMP’s 2008 Report on Colombia). On this basis, from 2008 to 2010, ICMP supported the work of the Colombian National Search Commission (CNB) assisting in the unification of processes and protocols, developing an inter-institutional search protocol, and creating a guide to unify the institutional approaches on informed consent. ICMP also assisted in the compilation and publication of the first official public report in Colombia on the issue of forced disappearance, which was issued by the CNB (19 March 2009), and in the creation of the first Colombian public policy document on forced disappearance (CONPES 3590 issued in July 2009). ICMP helped to draft Law 1408 on Homage to Victims of Forced Disappearance (April 2010), which established a unified database for a DNA-based process of identifying the missing. ICMP has also provided extensive training in DNA methods to Colombian institutions including the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.