Colombia has one of the highest levels of forced disappearances in the world, according to a new report released for Human Rights Day. Mention the word disappearances in the Latin American context and most people think of Argentina and Chile. But the magnitude of the tragedy in Colombia may be even greater.
Human rights defenders, trade unionists, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people, and young men and teenage girls in rural conflict zones are among Colombia’s disappeared.
Breaking the Silence: In Search of Colombia’s Disappeared, a report by the Latin America Working Group Education Fund and the U.S. Office on Colombia, cites official Colombian government statistics showing that 50,800 people have been registered as disappeared or missing. The quantity of those who were victims of forced disappearances is still in dispute, with official statistics ranging from over one-quarter of the 50,800 to more than 30,000 people. The total number of forced disappearances is likely to be much higher as new and old cases are entered into a consolidated government database just launched in 2007. Moreover, many cases are never registered at all.
Breaking the Silence highlights that the military aid that the U.S. government provided –and continues to provide–to Colombia strengthened an army that was responsible for thousands of forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions and has collaborated with, or at least turned a blind eye to, paramilitary violence that escalated as U.S. aid flowed. The highest incidence of forced disappearances occurred from 2000 to 2003, according to Colombian government statistics—the first four years of U.S.-funded Plan Colombia.