Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | August 30, 2014

Colombia’s Disappeared

Today, August 30, is International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance.

Estela de Carlotto, the founder of the Argentinian human rights organization Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, spent 36 years hoping to find her grandson who was disappeared during Argentina’s Dirty War. Recently, thanks to a DNA test, he was found.

During Argentina’s military dictatorship in 1976-83, some estimated 9,000 to 30,000 left-wing activists and militants were arrested and taken to torture centers. Some young opponents were pregnant and they gave birth while in the torture centers. The babies were stolen from them, and handed over to other families to raise as their own. It is believed some 500 children were stolen.

For someone “found,” it is a slow process to come to terms with the idea they are not who they thought they were, to understand that those who raised them were those who collaborated with their parents’ murderers.


I recommend the memoir My Name is Victoria: The Extraordinary Story of One Woman’s Struggle to Reclaim Her True Identity by Victoria Donda (and translated from Spanish by Magda Bogin). It is the memoir of Victoria Donda, an Argentine human rights activist and legislator. She suspected the family who raised her was not her biological family. She approached the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who helped her find her family, also through DNA.

The cases of missing/ disappeared children has fractured Argentina’s society for nearly four decades.

Colombia, too, has cases of missing/ disappeared children, and in a post-conflict scenario, this, too, will put a crack in Colombia’s society.

See: A New Heinous Chapter in Colombia’s History: Children of the Disappeared Victims of Paramilitaries.

A report by the US Office on Colombia and the Latin America working group education fund, Breaking the Silence: In search of Colombia’s disappeared, reveals that there are around 30,000 forced disappearances registered in Colombia. However, the total number is likely to be much higher as many cases have yet to be recorded in a still relatively new national database, and many disappearances are not registered at all.

At least 50,000 Colombian families are searching for the whereabouts of family members. Many families live with the continued hope that their loved ones are still alive, while also being deprived of a body to lay to rest.

In November 2011, the Colombian National Registry of Disappeared Persons reported a total number of 50,891 cases of disappearance. Of these, 16,907 are presumed to be enforced disappearances, according to the definition of enforced disappearance in Colombian Law.

In Colombia, victims of forced disappearances include human rights defenders, trade unionists, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people and poor rural farmers and their families.

All the armed groups have been responsible for disappearances in Colombia, from the left-wing guerrillas to the right-wing paramilitaries to the government’s forces. Bodies of victims were often mutilated, and buried in unmarked graves or thrown into the river.

Often, victims’ families are stigmatized and portrayed as guerrillas who deserve their fate.

See: Man survives becoming victim of “false positive.”

See: Scandals of “false positives” reveal army’s human rights abuses run deep.

Every week in Colombia people continue to disappear — despite the ongoing peace talks.

In 2011, the Ministry of Interior published the results of an investigation conducted along with the National Institute of Forensics and the National General Registry in which they could identify just 5,582 bodies out of a total of 22,689 bodies buried without names in public cemeteries throughout the country. In January 2013 alone, there were over 400 cases of disappearance reported in the country, with many of these presumed to be enforced disappearances.

Under both the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, ratified by Colombia in 2012, victims’ families have the right to seek reparations, and to demand the truth about the disappearance of their loved ones.

In 2013, the International Committee of the Red Cross worked with 61 Colombian families missing loved ones. Twenty-four people were found alive, while nine sets of remains were identified and returned to families.


Report ‘Desapariciones forzadas en Colombia 2011-2012: en busqueda de la justicia’ by Coordinación Colombia Europa Estados Unidos.

Special report by Semana magazine.



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