More than 2,000 disappearances have been reported in Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, in the past two years, said the local ombudsman Friday.
A study, entitled “Human Rights in Medellin 2004-2011” and carried out by Medellin’s Ombudsman Jairo Herran Vargas, reported 2,371 confirmed disappearances between January 2009 and November 2011 and 199 alleged disappearance cases.
Speaking with Colombia Reports, Vargas said, “Homicide causes the death of someone and the body of the person is evident […] meanwhile in disappearances a person is abducted and eventually killed, which is to say the body never appears.”
The Ombudsman continued, “[Medellin] experienced an increase in murders in recent years. The violence was linked to conflicts between criminal groups involved in drug trafficking, arms dealing, and other criminal activities […] about two years ago many criminal groups began using disappearances instead of homicide, with a desire to hide murders.”
Vargas said the majority of victims were young men in connection with gang violence. But he also said there were special cases where older people were targeted, such as in the case of merchants borrowing money from criminal organizations.
According to Vargas, disappearances can occur in any part of the city, but especially in places where criminal groups operate or are in conflict with each other.
The study’s author said, “The situation is made worse because there aren’t enough police dedicated to investigating [disappearances]. With so many cases pending, it’s hard to establish cases of disappearances.”
Vargas said criminals go to great lengths to hide and dispose of the bodies. Often the victims are cut into pieces, making identification impossible.
The victims’ families must deal with, “permanent suffering because the loved one’s body is never found,” said Vargas.
Medellin is home to numerous organizations dedicated to creating awareness of the problem and the city witnesses regular vigils and marches.
The Ombudsman concluded, “to better the situation, criminal groups with the capacity to disappear people must be dismantled. When these groups disappear so will disappearances.”