In the last 6 years, Colombia’s Justice and Peace Unit have dug up the remains of more than 5,000 bodies, many of whom are thought to be victims of the country’s armed conflict, according to Caracol Radio.
The information was made known Monday in a report from the Prosecutor General’s Office, of which the Justice and Peace Unit is a part. A sub-unit dedicated to searching for ‘disappeared’ persons was added to the unit in August 2007.
The report claims that 5,322 bodies were found buried in 4,117 mass graves since the creation of the sub-unit, with 80% of those found considered victims of illegal armed groups like paramilitaries, guerrillas, and neo-paramilitaries. The other deaths were related to common crime.
The most bodies were found in Casanare department, east of Bogota. Some 227 bodies were exhumed in this region, which was once a stronghold of rebel group FARC’s powerful Eastern Bloc. In second place was Cudinamarca, the department enveloping Bogota, where 86 mass graves yielded 130 bodies.
Some 561 bodies still await identification, while 2,179 corpses have already been handed over to the relevant families.
A significant number of those dug up are likely victims of forced disappearance. In November 2011, the Colombian National Registry of Disappeared Persons reported a total number of 50,891 cases of disappearance since the beginning of the country’s 49-year armed conflict, of which 16,907 – almost exactly a third – are presumed to be enforced disappearances. That figure is now much higher: in 2012, Colombia’s coroner’s office said that more than 7,500 people had disappeared, a 76% increase compared to 2011.
According to international aid organization Red Cross, Colombia leads the region in the field of forensic science, as well as legal tools to help the victims of forced disappearance. The last three years have seen the government pass laws relating to disappeared victims’ rights and land restitution, and paying tribute to victims of forced disappearance.
On Sunday authorities said that they were “90% certain” they had exhumed the remains of Fidel Castaño, one of the main founders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), once the country’s most powerful paramilitary group. They ostensibly demobilized between 2003 and 2006. Investigators exhumed the body from a mass grave in San Pedro, a municipality in the northwestern Uraba region, part of Antioquia department.
- Más de 5.000 cuerpos han sido exhumados en seis años en Colombia (Caracol)
- Search for Disappeared Sub-unit of Justice and Peace Unit (Prosecutor General’s Office)
- Enforced Disappearances Continue in Colombia (ABColombia)
- Colombia: Disappearance (Red Cross)