The “Nydia Erika Bautista” Foundation for Human Rights (FNEB) is an organisation of relatives of the victims of forced disappearance from five regions around the country (Bogota, Valle del Cauca, Meta, Casanare and Putumayo) and an interdisciplinary group of lawyers, social workers and experts in social archives and communication, who accompany people who have suffered the disappearance of one or several loved ones.
They search for people who were forcibly disappeared, promote truth, justice and dignity for victims and their families, and advocate for changes to public policy in defence of their human rights.
Nydia Erika Bautista was born in 1954 and grew up in a home where there was strong social commitment. From an early age, she expressed deeply humane convictions and learned to reject social injustice. When she was young, she studied sociology and economics and in 1982 she joined the guerrilla group 19th of April Movement (Movimiento 19 de Abril, or M-19):
“In those days it was a leftist subversive group, which did a lot of social work, especially with poor communities. Nydia Erika helped to build schools in the southern neighbourhoods of Bogota, she helped children and indigenous people, always with a sense of working for those who were less fortunate, it is what she was passionate about”, Andrea Bautista, Nydia Erika’s niece and a lawyer in FNEB.
On 30 August 1987, on the same day as her son Erik and her niece Andrea were having their first communion, a year after she had been arbitrarily detained and tortured by members of the Army’s III Brigade in Cali, she was detained in Bogota and taken by armed men wearing civilian clothes, to a farm in Guayabetal municipality (Cundinamarca), in an joint operation by the Army’s III and XX Brigades which included several enforced disappearances, murders and raids on the M-19 and its members.
According to evidence, she suffered torture and sexual violence before being executed and forcibly disappeared, and her body was buried in an unmarked grave in the same municipality. From that moment onwards her sister Yanette Bautista and her family never stopped looking for Nydia Erika, searching for justice and demanding that the State investigate and identify who was responsible.
“I was Executive Secretary for a multinational company and at that moment I decided to change my life, take off my high heels and put on running shoes, and go out to look for Nydia and search for justice, and that’s what I do to this day”, Yanette Bautista, Nydia Erika’s sister.
Three years later, thanks to a confession by a military intelligence sub-officer in the XX Brigade, they found her remains and the clothes she wore on the last day her loved ones had seen her. Despite the Inspector General’s Office identifying them as belonging to Nydia Erika Bautista, this was questioned by Pablo Victoria, a member of Congress, under the main argument that the identity of the remains had not been scientifically proven. For this reason in 2001, the remains, which lay in the pantheon of Bogota’s Central Cemetery, were exhumed for a second time. The following year, the Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that there was a 99.9% probability that they belonged to Nydia Erika.
Despite international recommendations that those responsible be brought to justice, no officers or sub-officers of the III and XX Brigades who coordinated the crime were brought to trial. Additionally, in 2011 General Alvaro Hernan Velandia was reinstated. He had been stripped of his rank in 1995, and at the time of the events was working as head of Military Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence (COICI) in Bogota.
In its struggle, the family has had the support of the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (ASFADDES), the organisation where Yanette Bautista was a legal coordinator, general coordinator and president. This tireless struggle for truth and justice has not been without risks. As Nydia Erika’s case moved forward, the threats, persecution and constant surveillance increased, to the point where in 1997, Yanette, Andrea and other members of the family had to abandon the country for years. From Germany, Yanette continued to be very active in her work for victims of enforced disappearance in Colombia and elsewhere.
In photographs: Finding them is peace
In 1999, Yanette Bautista was awarded two prizes, recognising her commitment to defending human rights, and especially her work for the detained and disappeared in Colombia and other countries. That same year, during their difficult time in exile, the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation was born.
“What was decided after seeing the large numbers of relatives of the disappeared who were coming to Yanette in their search, was to create a Foundation for the families, that’s what makes it different from other NGOs who accompany cases of enforced disappearance”, Andrea Bautista.
FNEB offers integral accompaniment with a differential focus, which tries to fill the spaces and voids left by enforced disappearance. Its purpose is also to defend the rights of disappeared women and the organisation advocates that the Public Prosecutor’s Office has a duty to investigate sexual violence committed against disappeared girls and women.
FNEB is currently responsible for documenting 500 cases to be presented to the Commission for Truth, Cohabitation and Non Repetition. It is a colossal and vital task of gathering testimony from victims, witnesses and the perpetrators themselves, evidencing the legal steps that were taken in the search for truth and justice. These documents will also be used to help the lawyers in strategic litigation.
FNEB provides legal assistance and representation in front of different authorities, to look for people who have been forcibly disappeared, and for there to be justice. Thanks to their litigation, the organisation succeeded in obtaining positive decisions in 90% of the cases they brought.
FNEB also documents the life histories of victims and their relatives, their individual and collective resilience and struggle, highlighting the numerous obstacles that they have had to face, as well as their contributions to truth and justice. These stories are then passed to the Truth Commission.
The aim is that by 2017, all information about enforced disappearance will be systematised and made accessible to the public, either through universities or through the library of the National Centre for Historical Memory.
School of leadership
FNEB holds workshops for around twenty participants each session, (mostly women) all of them relatives of the disappeared, in different parts of the country. “Through this emporwerment mechanism, we want them to stop being the objects of violence, and become political subjects”, Yanette Bautista explains. This training enables the members of each school to take part in an area of FNEB’s work in a respective region. With the support of people coordinating the different areas, they share experiences and the knowledge they have learned.
For example, as part of the International Week Against Enforced Disappearance in May 2016, the school held a memory workshop in the San Marcelino indigenous reservation, (Putumayo) which was attended by more than 350 people from the reservation, and they recorded life histories for the sake of remembrance and for the post-conflict context.
In September 2016, there was another training session on violence against women and gender, to help identify and raise awareness of domestic violence and violence during the armed conflict carried out against girls and women, and also on the rights of victims and strategies for the future.
FNEB was the first organisation in Colombia, and possibly in Latin America, to have carried out research and advocacy with a differential perspective; that is, focusing on specific groups of people such as afro-descendants, women and indigenous people.. On a strategic level, the organisation succeeded in the San Marcelino reservation being declared an “exemplary case” and therefore one of prime importance. The Putumayo Superior Tribunal ordered the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Human Rights Ombudsman to document and receive all the cases of enforced disappearance, executions and sexual violence which they had so far failed to do, and had left the cases in complete impunity and the families facing vulnerability and marginalisation.
Participation in the peace negotiations
FNEB has been taking part in the negotiations between the Government and the FARC guerrillas in Havana (Cuba) for several years in different ways.
Yanette Bautista was part of the first victims’ delegation to Havana in 2014. FNEB was also one of the representatives of 18 Colombian organisations working on the crime of enforced disappearance, that presented proposals by victims, human rights organisations and specialists to the negotiation table for the implementation of the agreement on persons presumed to be forcibly disappeared. These recommendations were the fruit of an independent process which included over 90 organisations from 24 departments around the country. These proposals included:
- A thorough restructuring of the search mechanisms and the authorities, which they consider have failed to bring about significant advances in the search for, identification and handover of victims;
- The development of measures to strengthen forensic procedures and results in the identification of victims;
- The creation of a participative structure with public oversight of the Specialist Search Unit for Disappeared Persons (UBPD), which will guarantee that the disappeared are found, as an essential part of the right to truth.
According to the working group on enforced disappearances of the Colombia Europe United States Coordination (CCEEUU), which brings together the 18 organisations mentioned above, the agreement is an opportunity for the relatives of the disappeared and organisations to create a new UNPD and a series of measures for the search, identification and dignified handover of the remains of disappeared people, but they ask for the measures to be put in place immediately pending the legislative and institutional processes needed to get the UNPD operating. They have also asked for the UNPD’s implementation to take into account the recommendations made on 17 March 2016 in Havana. As Yanette explained in an interview with PBI “the signature of the peace agreements represents hope to us. We’ve put our faith in peace, to the Yes vote, so that there are no more disappeared people in Colombia. So that our children and young people have the right to be on the streets without the fear of being disappeared, and if they are disappeared, that they have the right to be found alive, because they were taken from us alive”.
FNEB’s directors have precautionary protection measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. These protection measures were ordered in 1997 and continue to date.
Risks, threats and attacks
Since Yanette Bautista joined the first victims’ delegation to Havana in September 2014, FNEB’s members have been targeted by hostile public smears. Senator and former president Alvaro Uribe Velez falsely affirmed that Yanette was a member of the ELN guerrillas during a public debate in September 2014. She has suffered several information thefts and at least six threatening phone calls, such as the one Andrea Torres Bautista received on 24 June 2015 from a man who warned her “(…) we are going to kill you, but first we will rape you so that you respect men”. There were also emails and leaflets, on 29 September 2015 they were mentioned along with 100 individuals and human rights organisations in a leaflet which declared that they were all military targets of the neo-paramilitary group ‘Black Eagles Capital Block’. One of the members of the Foundation has gone into exile because of the threats.
Awards and recognition
In 1999, Yanette Bautista received the Catholic University of Eichstatt (Germany) Shalom Award and the Amnesty International Germany Human Rights Award, both of them in recognition of her work for the detained and disappeared in Latin America.
On 13 December 2012, the Foundation received the “Antonio Nariño” Franco-German Human Rights Award, for their work empowering the relatives of victims of enforced disappearance, and for the right to truth and justice as a contribution to peace building.
PBI accompanied FNEB occasionally from 2007 and signed a full accompaniment agreement in 2016.
 PBI Colombia, Interview with Andrea Bautista, 26 January 2015
 Sin olvido: Nydia Érika Bautista, undated
 BI Colombia/Ageh: Interview with Yanette Bautista, June 2015
 United Nations: Federico Andreu v. Colombia, Comunicación No. 563/1993, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/55/D/563/1993 (1995)
 El Tiempo: Quince años paran sepelio, 27 January 2003; Centro de Memoria: La imagen de Nydia seguirá ondeando, August 2015
 Ccajar: Familiares de Nydia Érika Bautista presentan Acción de Revisión ante el alto Tribunal, 25 August 2014
 The Truth Commission is “a temporary entity of extra-judicial character, historically created during a transition process (from dictatorship to democracy and from armed conflict to peace) to shed light on patterns of violence. It is not a mechanism to administer justice but rather to contribute to the truth and recognise the rights of victims: Oficina del Alto Comisionado para la Paz.
 Report on the forced disappearance of women in Colombia, by FNEB and published in February 2016. This investigation raises awareness of the forced disappearances of girls and women in the armed conflict, and social political violence in the country, through 39 cases which identify gender based violence and violence against women and the differential impact of enforced disappearances on the lives, bodies and rights of the victims.
 PBI Colombia: 29 years without Nydia Erika, 17 September 2016