International day of the victims of enforced disappearances

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the thousands of victims of enforced disappearance of Latin American dictatorships are known all over the world. The story of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Mexico was in the news for months.

However, the cases of enforced disappearances in Colombia echo much less.  Maybe this is because the numbers of victims in the violent internal conflict that has defined Colombia dwarfs the statistics of enforced disappearances. However, both statistics are still exceptional, the number of people disappeared fluctuates between 45000 (according to the RUV) and 69000 people according to the District Attorney’s Office, but the number could be greater.[1]

In December 2009, for example, a mass grave was discovered that contained approximately 2000 bodies.[2] In hundreds of graveyards around the country corpses lie in eternal peace underneath the initial NN (Nomen Nescio, “name unknown”) or in other cases they have still not been found and remain in the unmarked graves were the perpetrators have buried them.[3]  The numbers of disappeared in Colombia is greater than that of Chile or Argentina.

The crime of enforced disappearance is a continuous violation as endures until the disappeared person is found.  The victimization, therefore, goes on. Furthermore, the disappeared persons and their families are re-victimized as the majority of these cases are never resolved and remain in impunity. [4]The family members who are looking for the disappeared also receive death threats from the individuals that prefer that the truth never comes to light.

On the 30th of August, in Colombia and in the rest of the world, the International day of the victims of enforced disappearances is ‘celebrated’.  For the family members of the disappeared it is another opportunity to take out photos of their beloved husbands and wives, sons and daughters, cousins, brothers and sisters, that one-day went to work in the shop or a field and never returned.  They tirelessly carry their images, in picture frames, on wooden boards or in lockets hung round their necks, they take them to public events to fight against impunity and injustice and so that they will not be forgotten.  If enforced disappearance was meant to annihilate the history of that person it is the family members that maintain their history alive.

PBI accompanies many organizations formed of the family members of disappeared people. PBI also participates in the Enforced Disappearance Work Group hosted by Coordination Colombia – Europe – United States (Cceeu) and this is why we were present in the Plaza de Bolivar this day.

– Hendrine Rotthier


[1] Unique Victims Register, managed by the Unit of Attention and Reparation, according to Law 1448 of 2011.

[2] A mass grave appears in Colombia with 2000 bodies, 26th of January 2010.

[3] Semana: In Colombia there are 20,453 ‘NN’ in municipal cemeteries, 8th of July 2015.

[4] El Tiempo: IACHR, worried about impunity in enforced disappearances in Colombia, 5th of April 2015.


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