Today is the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. A severe violation of human rights, forced disappearance occurs when an individual is secretly abducted from their home, or kidnapped elsewhere, and their whereabouts concealed. A tactic used to place the victim outside the protection of the law, in many cases, these individuals are never heard from again.
The MATCH Fund grantee, AVIDES (Association of Victims of Forced Disappearance and Arbitrary Detention), brings together women who have been affected by displacement and forced disappearance in the state of Nariño, Colombia. Decades-long conflict in the country has severely impacted the lives of women and their families, with an estimated 4.7 million people having been forced to leave their homes since the conflict began. For years, right-wing paramilitaries, and occasionally Colombian security forces and left-wing guerrillas, have used forced disappearance as a tool to suppress political opposition and instill fear among communities, including human rights defenders and indigenous or rural populations in conflict areas who refuse to cooperate with armed actors.
According to UARIV (the Unit for Attention and Reparation of Victims), as of this month, there have been over 4,000 victims of forced disappearance registered in Nariño alone, of which approximately one-quarter are disappeared persons and three-quarters are indirect victims, mainly affected family members.
Today in Nariño, AVIDES is participating in a special mass at the main church of Pasto to remember the victims and will be hosting a rally where their members will be accompanied by local authorities to pay tribute to the disappeared and their families. Today we stand in solidarity with AVIDES and their many members, young and old, who search desperately day after day for their missing family members.
When a person is victim to forced disappearance, the lives of the family members they leave behind are radically transformed. Loved ones not only have to face the grief of losing a key person in their lives, but must also overcome the profound fear and uncertainty about their own safety and security.
And then comes the struggle for truth and justice. Colombia’s long-running internal armed conflict has left tens of thousands of victims of enforced disappearances since 1985, but very few of the perpetrators have ever been brought to justice. Today, thousands of families are still left with their questions unanswered , still wondering what happened to their daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sisters, and brothers.
Despite the fact that the crime is widespread, compared to other human rights violations, forced disappearances in Colombia have received little attention. For too long, the relatives of the disappeared, and the human rights defenders that support them, have faced significant risks and harassment in their pursuit of truth.
But thanks to organizations like AVIDES, cases of forced disappearance continue to be documented, and women affected by forced disappearance have access to legal and psychological support. Equally important, through AVIDES, they can also connect with a movement of victims and human rights defenders in their search for truth, justice and reparations, and advocate for changes to public policies and practices that currently enable widespread impunity for perpetrators.
Join the MATCH Fund in supporting the women of AVIDES in their ongoing search for justice for women affected by forced disappearance in Nariño, Colombia.