New Agreements on Disappeared Reached at Colombia’s Peace Table

NEW:  AGREEMENTS NOW AVAILABLE HERE IN ENGLISH.  See  Communiqué #62.

Late Saturday night, October 17, the representatives of Cuba and Norway announced that the government of Colombia and the FARC-EP peace delegations had reached two sets of agreements to address the plight of the tens of thousands of Colombians who have been forcibly disappeared in the course of the war. (See Joint Communiqué #62.)

The first set of measures puts into effect “immediate humanitarian measures for [the] search, location, and dignified release of the remains of persons assumed to be disappeared in the context and because of the internal armed conflict.”  These measures, which include specific commitments by both parties, will be implemented immediately, prior to the signing of a final accord.  They will address victims’  rights and seek to alleviate the pain of those whose family members or loved ones have disappeared.  Likewise, the measures should build confidence among the victims and among the broader Colombian population that the peace process will address the rights of victims and that the war will finally begin to wind down.

The second set of measures will establish a special unit for seeking people believed to be disappeared in the context of the armed conflict. This unit–the UBPD (Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas)–will be stood up following the signing of a final peace accord.  It will rely heavily on victims’ participation in its design and execution, and will be a part of the peace architecture spelled out in the recent accord on justice.  It will be one of many overlapping components that will form a Comprehensive System for Truth, Justice, Reparations and Non Repetition.  The entity will have administrative and financial autonomy.  In the accords, the parties also anticipate the creation of a national plan and related regional plans on the disappeared, to be designed in tandem with victims and human rights organizations.

The parties called on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to assist in the design and execution of plans to move forward with immediate humanitarian measures, and each side committed to providing the ICRC with relevant information.  A work plan for the ICRC and the National Institute for Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, drawing also on information from the Attorney General’s office and from organizations of victims will be drawn up, and the current Commission for the Search for Disappeared Persons was asked to draw up a plan within 4 months that will strengthen institutional capacities and rely on the participation of victims’ and human rights organizations as well as other specialized entities.

Humberto de la Calle, head of the government delegation, noted in a statement that the disappearance of persons is “one of the most painful results of armed conflicts.”  He mentioned the variety of circumstances under which these disappearances have occurred in Colombia–“kidnap victims that died in captivity, victims of forced disappearance, victims of massacres whose remains were never found, members of the Armed Forces and members of the FARC who died in combat [and] whose remains were never found, among many other cases.”  De la Calle observed that structures and measures similar to those being proposed in the latest accords have been set up at the end of many conflicts, and noted the examples of the border conflict between Greece and Turkey, the War of the Persian Gulf, and the conflicts in the Balkans, Cyprus, the Middle East, and Kosovo.

“The families of the … disappeared have the right to heal the wounds by finding the remains, and they have the right to know what happened,” De la Calle noted.

CICR Offers Support

The International Committee of the Red Cross issued a press release (read it here) welcoming the announcement and announced its readiness to support the implementation of “Immediate Measures for Confidence Building that Contribute to the Search, Location, Identification and Dignified Release of the Remains of Disappeared Persons.”  The ICRC press release notes that official statistics put the number of disappeared at more than 100,000 people, with humanitarian consequences that are “unmeasurable.”

The new accords, added to the news that FARC leader “Timochenko” has announced the cessation of military training for his troops, and the continuing joint de-mining exercises with the Colombian Army and the FARC, all point to the gradual de-escalation of the conflict. Likewise, it is a good sign that, increasingly, participatory mechanisms for civil society are being built into the agreements.

About Ginny Bouvier

Love reading, writing, thinking, and working with people to make the world a better place. Family and friends, yoga, travel, photography, perusing dessert menus keep me sane. Latin American enthusiast. Peace practitioner yearning for justice. Heading up the Colombia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace, but tweets and posts are my own.
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