The Colombian Congress Adopts the Law on Homage to Disappeared Persons and Other Measures for their Search and Identification

The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) welcomes the adoption of the Law on Homage to Disappeared Persons and Other Measures for their Search and Identification, which was adopted yesterday by the Colombian Congress.

“This law is an important step forward in the search and identification process and the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration to the missing in Colombia,” said Ms. Kathryne Bomberger, ICMP’s Director-General. “The law strengthens the process of genetic identification, and provides for protection of a victims’ genetic information.  It also includes measures for protecting the integrity of unidentified remains and for the protection of places of clandestine burial.”

The new law promotes specific victims’ rights, including the right to observe exhumations and provides financial assistance for victims’ participation at handover and burial ceremonies. The law also establishes official dates for commemoration and other measures which allow the state and civil society to pay tribute to the missing and promote awareness of the issue.

The initiative to create this law arose in 2008 and was subsequently taken over by the office of Senator Alfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento, who after consultations with NGOs, victims associations, international organizations and state institutions, submitted the final draft of the Law to the Colombian Congress in May 2009. ICMP provided direct assistance in the creation of the Law, and has already started working, jointly with various state institutions, to assist in the implementation of some of the mechanisms created by it.

“I would like to thank ICMP for their contribution and support of this initiative. I hope the law will not only strengthen the search and identification process in Colombia, but also help provide answers to the families of the disappeared. The next challenge lays in its full and correct implementation, with full respect of victims’ rights in each stage of the process.” stated Senator Alfonso Valdivieso Sarmiento.  

The draft law was adjusted at the last minute changing the institution that administers the genetic database. Initially, this role was assigned to the National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences, who also administers the National Register of Missing Persons, but subsequently the responsibility was shifted to the State Prosecutor’s Office. ICMP hopes that the change in administrator of the genetic database is going to be implemented in a manner that will not decelerate or complicate the inter-institutional coordination of the process.   

The newly adopted law is in line with the CONPES 3590 – Consolidation of the Search and Identification Mechanisms for Missing Persons in Colombia, a general public policy document adopted earlier this year, which establishes priorities on the issue of enforced disappearance. As the document was initially objected by the Government, it will be submitted to the Colombian Constitutional Court later today, which in 6 days will have to reach a ruling on its constitutionality.

Finally, although the Law on Homage to Disappeared Persons and other Measures for their Search and Identification is an important step forward, various issues require further legislative regulation, including the creation of a consistent definition of who constitutes a victim of an enforced disappearance, as well a reconfirmation of the right to know for all victims, regardless of the alleged perpetrator of the crime. ICMP has instigated the need for over-arching legislation specific to the issue of enforced disappearance in Colombia and for the inclusion of victims in the creation of such legislation.

Created in 1996 following the G-7 summit, ICMP assists governments worldwide in dealing with the issue of persons missing from wars, conflicts, human rights violations and natural disasters. ICMP opened an office in Bogota in 2008, and is also currently assisting the governments of Iraq, Chile and the Philippines, while it has also worked to identify persons missing following the Asian tsunami, as well as from Norway, South Africa, Cameroon and Kuwait.  Its DNA laboratory system has made more than 16,400 DNA identifications worldwide since it went online in 2001.