By: Sergio Segura / Source: Marcha Noticias / The Dawn News / November 13, 2017
The peace talks between the Colombian insurgency and the Government have made the discussion about human rights take precedence in the midst of the conformation of a Truth Commission. In this sense, I will discuss one of the phenomenons that should be taken on by this commission: forced disappearance. The General Assembly of the United Nations established that the forced disappearances are crimes against humanity generally done by the State against its political opposition.
Just recently in the International Day of Victims of Forced Displacement, the family members who have suffered this managed to get President Juan Manuel Santos to sign the Law 589 of April 5, 2017, for the creation of a Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas (Search Unit for Disappeared People -UBPD). This body would investigate war crimes and establish guidelines for the search of disappeared people. However, the implementation of many aspects related to the Havana peace agreements has not been carried out and other aspects are going slowly. The good news is that since September 26 this organism is under the direction of the human rights defender Luz Marina Monzón. For her to officially begin work, she needs legal recognition by the Constitutional Court.
According to the Unitary Record of Victims (RUV), forced disappearance in the last 32 years has left some 167,554 people affected (46,970 directly, 120,584 indirectly), with Antioquia (27,193 disappeared) and in the eastern plains (21,498). The existing information, principally comes from the declarations of armed actors. Of the 60,630 victims recognized of forced disappearance there have only been news about 8,122. A report by the Center for Historical Memory adds that in 3,480 cases they found the body and in 3,658 cases there is no information about their remains.
Camilo Torres Restrepo, assassinated by the National Army in 1966, perhaps is one of the most emblematic cases. The general Álvaro Valencia Tovar died in 2014 without revealing what they really did with the body of the revolutionary priest. The state, as in the majority of the cases, has shown disinterest to look for the real location of his remains. The same happened with Omaira Montoya, disappeared in 1977 (while pregnant) by the extinct F2 (secret intelligence unit of the National Police). This was the first incident of forced disappearance in Colombia.
In the same way, there are 423 indigenous people, 421 black people, 26 raizales and 3 palenque community members, for a total of 874 people with an ethnic identity. Only in 5,321 registered cases are the occupations of the victims known: 43.3% are peasants.
If we examine chronologically the data since 2002, the time that Álvaro Uribe was president, there is a chilling reality. Just in 2002, 15,260 people were disappeared, while in 2003 12,230 victims were registered. Little by little the number began to decrease, arriving to 2009 with 2,357 disappeared. In 2010, the year in which the first mandate of Santos began, there were 1,392 cases registered. During 2015 and 2016, the period of the greatest level of advances of the peace agreements with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -FARC-EP-, there were 73 and 54 respectively.
If it is true that in the course of 2017 the numbers have been dropping to five disappeared (the lowest since 1985) it is clear that it is a phenomenon that does not arouse general interest in society and the necessary efforts to shed light on the victims and their search has not been done.
Of the known reports, it is said that 51.4% of all the victims do not know who was responsible for the crime. 46.1% of the responsibility of these disappearances, according to the Center for Historical Memory are of paramilitaries.
For decades, the data about disappeared in Colombia was hidden. Until recently the official figures did not recognize more than 26,000 forced disappearances. After compiling photographs, legal sentences, audiovisual reports and 102 social and institutional sources, the National Unit for Victims, in 2015, concluded that they took into account 6,570 exhumations done by the Attorney General until June 1, 2016 in mass graves in the whole country, in which they identified 3,075 bodies, of which 1,334 are victims of forced disappearance.
100% Impunity: “We are in a mass grave called Colombia”
Gloria Gómez, director of the Association of Family Members of Disappeared Detainees (Asfaddes) stated that impunity is almost 100%. She indicated that “The commitment is to spread awareness about forced disappearance, implicate the society in the repudiation and rejection of these atrocious crimes.” According to Gomez “there should be a strengthening of the bank of genetic profiles that is currently very weak, there is insufficient capacity in the area of disappeared people and Forensic Medicine needs to strengthen itself to continue supporting the processes of identification of people.” Additionally, she added that the “Search Unit for Disappeared People should be full of capable people and resources to begin the work of searching.” In the same way, Hernán Jojoa, delegated President to the National Commission of Disappeared People, highlighted that “the task is finding them and returning them to their family members.” Gómez added that the Attorney General, one of the people in charge of clarifying the facts of the forced disappearances, is the institution that has the least amount of results in the investigations.
Around 15,000 bodies are identified, buried in hundreds of cemeteries in the country, however no one claims them. The forensic anthropologist Helka Quevedo Hidalgo says that in 99% of the cases it is proven that there are no protocols in this search.
In the report “Bodily texts of cruelty” done by the Center for Historical Memory contrasts the numbers of the System of Information Network of Disappeared and Corpses -Sirdec- with those of the Oral Criminal Accusation System -Spoa- of the Attorney General, proving that there could be many more disappeared than are reported until now. In this sense, it is a partial information, that affects that many family members do not denounce for fear of retaliation.
Forced disappearances, destroy the nuclear family and social world of the disappeared, it requires the commitment of the legislators so that the victims are attended. The families claim that the Victims Unit and the psychosocial accompaniment that the Health Minister should guarantee are of bad quality. However, from the same communities that are victims also put the human capacity for their own reparation, a situation which deserves a questioning for historical lessons. Despite the circumstances that are imposed, the acts of solidarity, mutual aid and organization persist.
Clearing up the truth and the right to demand answers
The creation of the Commission for Truth, Cohabitation and Non-Repetition (CEV) on April 5 by the Presidency of the Republic under Decree 588 of 2017, will play an important role. This mechanism is part of the Comprehensive System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and No Repetition (SIVJRNR), along with other devices that will be the instrument to achieve three objectives to guarantee the right to the truth along with the right to justice: i) contribute to clearing up what has happened in the last half-century; ii) formal recognition of the victims as well as the perpetrators; y iii) the promotion and execution of plans of non-violent cohabitation in the most affected territories.
To this proposal, different lawyers in the country agree that on the combination of the legal, extrajudicial truth and the individual and collective initiatives, they are the best alternative for a comprehensive explanation. Basically, exemplary punishments for those responsible of grave crimes, added to the citizen initiatives that contribute to the process of reconstruction of memory. For this difficult task, the CEV, made up of eleven people (currently subject to a selection process and citizen oversight) has a deadline of three years to come up with a clarifying report.
However, the oldest institution of the continent could not be worse. The executive branch is immersed in every type of corruption and clientelism networks, which means that a simple judicial reform is not enough, given that the deep changes are needed in the whole political system. Without an effective search for the Truth, there will not be a solid base for the construction of a country in peace that guarantees no repetition of the barbarity done in the more than five decades of conflict. The whole society should demand an honest and expedited justice, since the justice system has exposed links with grave crimes related to the armed conflict and corruption (for example, the ex-president of the Supreme Court of Justice is in prison). To transform this area would open up a key route for what is called post-conflict.
Different state institutions intervene without objection to impede that the signed agreements from Havana advance; amongst these institutions are the Attorney General and Congress. Néstor Humberto Martínez and the senators of the right-wing parties have radicalized the obstacles so that the backbone of the peace talks, or the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), can not begin its task. Additionally, Martinez and the followers of urbismo stand out for not supporting the recently created unit to dismantle paramilitarism. This makes it difficult to lay the foundation so that there can be a serious process of reparations and reaching the truth.
With the experience of demobilization of the paramilitaries ten years ago during the Uribe government it was shown that the judicial truth as the only measure, has serious limitations in terms of gaining a comprehensive understanding of the truth in line with the idea of restorative justice, since the process was based in the generation of sentences, later decisions to the free versions of many paramilitary bosses, the majority who are currently extradited and isolated, without the possibility of contributing to processes of reparation to victims.
Departing from what was previously mentioned, the CEV does not have only punitive objectives (and it can not have them because it is an extrajudicial mechanism), instead, using a reconstruction of the accounts of the past it will generate a report that should have the connections of the different strategies of terror created during the war, so, a Truth that is the most complete as possible, a process that would have to be different than the work done by the Center for Historical Memory for the last six years.
The role of the CEV should be to contribute a documented file of recuperation and conservation of memory and make sure that the right of access to information by the victims is respected. They also should generate some material to reveal the savage and violent acts of the official repression, denounce the human rights violations and take part in the formulation of public policy that pushes forth reforms so that fundamental rights for the most vulnerable sectors of society are guaranteed.
To finish, it would be appropriate to compare a discourse from September 8, 2003 made by the Senator Álvaro Uribe when he served as chief of State, during the ceremony of naming of the commander of the Air Force, this with the goal of not forgetting from where the persecution of human rights defenders comes from: “Collectives of lawyers appeared, they appeared one after the other and more spokespersons for terrorism and traffickers of human rights, they should all take off the marks (…) General Lesmes: you are accepting the command of the Air Force to defeat terrorism. Hopefully the traffickers of human rights won’t stop you…”. This same script was used a couple of days ago on social media when he found out that the researcher Mauricio Archila would be part of the Truth Commission: “the writings of Mauricio Archila, member of CINEP and the Truth Commission are slanderous and apologize for terrorism.”
These words are accompanied by the institutions of the country, without fissures, to the point of configuring a real State policy that remains in tact, whether it be due to the permanence of the structures of violence and impunity that feed these practices or for the silence that accompanies the tragedy of massive forced disappearances in Colombia.