Where Are They? Call for Justice for the Disappeared in Colombia and Mexico

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Author: Emma Buckhout

Honoring the Victims of Enforced Disappearances and Calling for Justice

¿Dónde están?” “Where are they?” This is a question no parent should have to ask about their children. Yet today in 2016, there are thousands of families across Latin America asking this burning question about their loved ones who been forcibly disappeared without any explanation. Families have been broken, and their loss is made all the more painful by the lack of support from authorities in the search for answers and justice for their loved ones. On this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, LAWG honors the families of the forcibly disappeared in Colombia, Mexico, and elsewhere in Latin America who are leading the way in the searches for the victims. We stand by them in their call for truth and justice, and urge the governments of the region to do the same.

Colombia reached a long-awaited peace accord last week, but the human costs of the longest-running conflict in the western hemisphere are devastating. More than 220,000 people, over 80 percent whom were civilians, were killed and more than 6 million Colombians were forcibly displaced. While no one is sure of the exact number, the amount of people who were disappeared in the brutal conflict is vast—the Colombian government’s Victims’ Unit registers more than 45,000 victims of forced disappearance.

Mexico has suffered its own widespread violence that has unfortunately led to its own tragic consequences. Forced disappearances were common during the Dirty War in the 1960s and 1970s. Then the number shot up with the launch of the “War on Drugs” in 2007 and the widespread use of Mexican security agents to fight organized crime. Today, Mexico’s official National Registry points to approximately 28,000 people who have been disappeared between 2007 and May 2016, but civil society organizations and the families themselves estimate the number to be much higher. And the majority of these thousands upon thousands of cases rest in impunity.

In the absence of government action, collectives of family members have formed national search brigades to look for the disappeared, including the thousands of Central American migrants who have been disappeared on their journey through Mexico. Meanwhile, the Mexican government has been slow to conduct its own searches, has offered few resources to families that face constant threats, and is dragging its feet on a new draft law aimed at tackling the issue of disappearances in the country. The law offers hope, but only if the government is willing to listen to the recommendations of family members and implement meaningful search mechanisms.

In Colombia, victims of the conflict, including families of the disappeared, have been essential in advancing the peace accords. They must continue to play a role in building peace from the ground up to ensure a future where no parent or child suffers the same fate.

On this International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, show you support families in their fight for justice and lasting peace in Mexico and Colombia:

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I stand in solidarity with the families of the disappeared and call for justice #DayoftheDisappeared #DóndeEstán

Me uno en solidaridad con las familias de desaparecid@s. Demandamos justicia #DíaDeLosDesaparecidos #DóndeEstán

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As Colombia moves to implement its historic peace accords, and as Mexico contemplates its new law, authorities have the opportunity to work with victims for positive action. Together, LAWG and partners like you can monitor this action, and stand by the families of the disappeared in their fight for justice.