Remembering forced disappearence in Colombia

On the 22nd of June 2018, representatives of the Embassy of Germany and France, Caritas Germany and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GIZ) made a diplomatic visit to express their support for the work of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation (FNEB[1]), which accompanies victims of forced disappearance to achieve truth and justice. Seventy relatives of victims of forced disappearance attended the event from the following organizations: Familiares Colombia (Family members Colombia), Madres del Meta y Guaviare (Mothers of Meta and Guaviare), Madres por la vida (Mothers for life), Mujer sigue mis pasos (Woman follows my steps) coming from Bolívar, Boyacá, Caldas, Casanare, Cauca, Cundinamarca, Meta, Putumayo and Valle del Cauca.

J-M Druette saludando
Jean-Marie Druette, political advisor for human rights for the French Embassy salutes the leaders victims of the forced desappearance
Ferdinand Saludando
Ferdinand Jenrich, political advisor at the German Embassy is greeting and listening to the testimony of leaders who travelled from Putumayo

The number of victims of forced disappearance in Colombia during the last 45 years is 60,630[2]; that is one disappeared person every eight hours. The most disturbing aspect of this practice of consolidated violence is its geographical dimension, considering that 1,102 cases were registered in 1,125 municipalities throughout the country. This implies the assumption that the practice of forced disappearance reached a dramatic level of normalization.

If we extend the timeframe of the analysis, the data is not more encouraging. In the last 78 years a total of 117,422 people were reported as missing according to the official figures provided on the occasion of the International Day of Victims of Forced Disappearances 2016 by Christoph Harnisch, Head of the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)[3] in Colombia. The United Nations[4] added the following year, that this practice has been characterized by widespread impunity in the legal sphere despite the criminalization of this offense with the Law 589 of 2000.

Women leaders from Valle del Cauca and Bolivar ho participated to the visit of the French and German Embassy had the opportunity to express their worries about the situation lived in the territories

The members of FNEB have been permanently monitored, threatened, harassed and information from them were stolen because of their work defending human rights. Their work is characterized by the tireless effort of documenting, sensitizing and raising awareness on the complexity of factors that allow the continuity of the phenomenon. The aim of all this work is to generate institutional responsibility to advance its research. In addition, women defenders have been exposed to an increase of serious threats through calls, emails or pamphlets up today, since Yanette Bautista attended the first delegation of victims to Havana. The level of risk has been rising proportionally to the advancement and achievements of the legal processes. Without forgetting the vulnerability of the communities in the field and the hundreds of accompanied victims exposed to double risk of invisibilization and revictimization.

Lideresa y su hija

The organization has also managed to implement unique mechanisms for strengthening the human rights of the family members victims of forced disappearance in both rural and urban contexts. The work carried out has succeeded in triggering empowerment processes of indigenous people, afro-descendants and women from various departments of the country. Thus highlighting the importance of the differential approach in terms of ethnicity and gender in the adoption of strategies for the defense of human rights.

The demobilization of the FARC-EP and its conversion into a political party has been a historic achievement for the entire international community, which needs an equally historical consistency in the implementation of the Peace Agreement. This for the proper functioning of the entities created by the Agreement, such as the Search Unit for Missing Persons (Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas, UBPD), which is even more important in this moment of political uncertainty. In the particular context the country is currently experiencing, it is a priority to empower and strengthen the mechanisms created by the agreement.

Adri acompañando
If we refer to the data of the National Center for Historical Memory, it turns out that only 8,122 cases have been clarified of the 60,630 missing persons reported; while if we refer to the data of the Cric, we still do not have any news of 63,686 men and 19,136 women out of the 117,422 cases reported. Whatever the source is, the conclusion remains sad: Colombia has tens of thousands of cases of missing persons which remain in total impunity and directly affect another half million family members.

All the efforts of the organization have been directed towards clarifying the truth and carrying out various exercises to preserve their memory, aimed to counteract the alienation of cold numbers and restore a face to the missing persons.

For these reasons, international support for human rights organizations such as FNEB is extremely important. It is necessary to make visible their work supporting human rights and fighting against enforced disappearance which, in addition, many must carry out under constant threats. The visit of the two political advisers of the Embassy of Germany and France was framed within this joint effort. After greeting the victims who were present, the delegates from both embassies listened to the testimonies of different leaders who came from Bolívar, Meta, Guaviare, Valle del Cauca, Putumayo and Bogotá. Jean-Marie Druette from the French embassy, ​​thanked the testimonies because these are fundamental when it comes to understanding the situation of the victims in the country. He ended his speech reaffirming his commitment to the victims of enforced disappearance in the face of the new challenges of the current context and recalling the reasons for hope, such as the Search Unit for Missing Persons, which is strongly supported by the international community. Ferdinand Jenrich, from the German embassy, ​​also thanked the victims for their presence and expressed his gratitude for sharing their stories. During his speech, he congratulated FNEB for its work and its support provided to the different organizations of victims throughout the country, which helped to make visible the different problems experienced in the territories.

Mario Paciolla and Adrian Carrillo

PBI Colombia


[1] PBI Colombia: Fundación Nydia Erika Bautista (FNEB), website of FNEB:

[2] National Center of Historical Memory: Hasta encontrarlos, 2016. This figure varies according to the institution and the timeframe, the last one published by the Observatory of Memory and Conflict, of the National Center of Historical Memory (CNMH) estimates that 82 thousand 998 people were victims of forced disappearence in the country from 1958 to the present, RCN: Casi 83 mil personas han sido víctimas de desaparición forzada en Colombia, 25 February 2018

[3] International Committee of the Red Cross: Colombia: más de medio millón de personas afectadas por el fenómeno de la desaparición, 29 August 2016

[4] RT Noticias: Desapariciones forzosas en América Latina: La ONU denuncia “generalizada impunidad“, 31 August 2017

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