Crime & Justice

Mothers, families of Colombia’s disappeared continue tireless struggle

By Irene Escudero

Bogota, Aug 30 (EFE).- Whether embroidering the names of the missing, marking the outlines of dead bodies on the street or lying on the ground in imitation of slain victims, the mothers and family members of tens of thousands of disappeared persons in Colombia seek new ways every day to demand justice and attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of their loved ones.

On Monday, the International Day of the Disappeared, a total of 6,402 students were expected to gather in this capital’s downtown Plaza de Bolivar, or one demonstrator for each of the so-called “false positives,” young men who were lured by the army from the slums of Bogota and other low-income areas of the country on the promise of well-paid jobs, only to be murdered in cold blood and presented as rebels killed in combat.

Instead, a group of just a few dozen mothers and some university students sympathetic to their cause congregated at this capital’s main square to bring attention to those killings.

One of those slain young men was the son of Beatriz Mendez, Weimar Armando Castro, who left his home on June 20, 2004 (his mother clearly recalls that it was a Father’s Day) and never came back. His body later was found in southern Bogota following news reports about the killing of 12 guerrilla fighters by army soldiers.

His corpse was discovered – unlike thousands of others still lying in graves – with signs of torture and 59 gunshot wounds. Mendez, who has been seeking justice for 17 years – four of them while displaced from her home due to death threats -, now has her son’s face tattooed on her left arm, saying “no one will remove it from there.”

“Seeing (those women) who are searching, resisting, denouncing, so that their loved ones are not forgotten, what I feel is that it’s necessary in Colombia for the disappearance of people to be unequivocally rejected,” the director of the UBPD search unit for persons listed as disappeared, Luz Marina Monzon, told Efe.

“The fact that for the first time there’s an institution in Colombia exclusively dedicated to searching for the disappeared is a tool and something very valuable for those who’ve been carrying out this search alone for such a long time,” Monzon said.

More than one or two decades have gone by in many of these cases; since then, and above all in the past few years, more certainty has been generated in terms how many false positives there were and the whereabouts of the more than 80,000 people disappeared as a result of Colombia’s decades-old armed conflict (the highest in the Latin America region, according to figures from Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory).

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), a court established as part of the 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leftist guerrilla army, has provided clearer figures on false positives and this year indicted more than a score of soldiers on charges of extrajudicial executions.

The killings, which occurred when Colombian politicians and the military brass were demanding results in the war against the FARC, were a way for troops to inflate body counts and earn promotions, bonuses and extra leave.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the organizations most active in locating disappeared persons in Colombia, said in a statement that this scourge is not a problem of the past but rather a phenomenon that continues to involve all of the country’s armed actors.

And it added that impunity continues to prevail in the majority of cases of disappeared persons, no matter when those crimes occurred. EFE


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