Profiles of the Missing from Colombia: Perspectives and Priorities of Families of the Disappeared 

The Hague, 11 December 2019 –  To mark this week’s celebration of International Human Rights Day, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) organized a “Profiles of the Missing” discussion in The Hague today on the effort now underway to address the huge legacy of missing persons in Colombia.  

As many as 120,000 people are missing from five decades of conflict in Colombia, and all sectors of society have been affected. Disappearances have been perpetrated by state actors, paramilitary and guerrilla groups, and organized crime. Today’s “Profiles of the Missing addressed the causes of the conflict, the impact of disappearances on society and the rule of law, and the central role that families of the missing can and must play in implementing key provisions of the 2016 Peace Agreement. 

Fourteen family members of missing persons and representatives of civil society organizations working on this issue travelled from Colombia to participate in the discussion. 

Opening the Profiles of the Missing event, ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger recalled that this week’s commemoration of human rights highlights the fact that families of the missing have a fundamental right to truth, justice and reparation“We recognize your courage,” she told the 14 Colombian representatives. “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, Western Hemisphere Department, at the Foreign Ministry of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, welcomed the families to the Netherlands. “It is a privilege to be able to share this space with the families,” she said, and 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. 

Ms. Semina Alekić, Chair of the Steering Board of the Regional Coordination of Families of the Missing from the Former Yugoslavia, described ICMP’s work in Bosnia, including helping families to defend their rights. “I would like to send a message of encouragement to Colombian families of the missing. We offer our experience and our knowledge and our support.” 

Gloria Gómez of the Association of Families of Detainees/Disappeared (ASFADDES)and Yanneth Bautista of the Nydia Érika Bautista Foundation have been working with cases of forced disappearance for more than three decades. They stressed that the Peace Agreement has reactivated and made visible the discussion about the issue of the disappeared in Colombia. Thanks to the Agreement, institutional commitments have been generated, such as the creation of the Search Unit of Persons Listed as Disappeared. They noted that organizations working on the issue of the disappeared had experienced solidarity when they came together as part of the peace dialogues that preceded the final agreement. 

Jacqueline Castillo Peña of the Mothers of victims of extrajudicial killings of Soacha spoke about the reality of extrajudicial executions in the country and the current status of peace implementation. “Cases were initially dealt with by the ordinary justice system and in this there was a lot of impunity, as the military hardly ever attended hearings,” she saidNow that cases of extrajudicial executions are part of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, they have had the opportunity to hear the military’s testimony. Although she points out that progress has been limited because senior officers have not testified, she said some clarity had been achieved. She said the struggle will continue until “each soldier who gave the order for these murders is known”. 

Emerson Rojas Rojas, of the Colombian Association of Military Victims of Kidnapping and Forced Disappearance spoke about the importance of the Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition, a transitional justice system created by the Agreement. Emerson said that for the system to work properlythe State must commit itself to enforce the Agreement; the FARC must provide information on all kidnapped, disappeared and recruited minors; the victims must commit to participate in the system; and the international community must fulfill its commitment to oversee the process. 

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, highlighted the role that the FARC is playing in the search for the disappeared.  “From the day after the signing of the agreement we have been committed to the search,” he said. “We have currently documented more than 300 cases of disappearances of both civilians, members of the security forces, and members of the FARC and have turned them over to the Search Unit for them to begin their investigations. 

The discussion was moderated by Edwin Koopman, Latin American correspondent for the Dutch media outlets VPRO and Trouw. 

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’s Profiles of the Missing is a public forum that brings together families of the disappeared to examine core elements of the missing persons issue, raise public awareness, make recommendations and demonstrate to policymakers that tackling this issue is central in efforts to support human security, conflict-prevention, peace building and justice. The participation of surviving relatives of the missing is central to the Profiles approach.  

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, 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.