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Forced Disappearances in Colombia

August 30, 2011 marked the International Day of Forced Disappearances, which in Colombia was an opportunity to place this human rights issue at the forefront of the country’s national political debate. A year before, a report released by the Latin American Working Group stated that the subject of forced disappearances has been overshadowed by the high number of deaths, assassinations, and other forms of violence that occur in Colombia and often dominate media reports. Considering Colombia was registering some of the highest numbers of forced disappearances in Latin America, the occasion was particularly important for human rights defenders from both national and international organizations that wished to make this issue visible via demonstrations, events, publications, and debates throughout the whole country.

The International Day of Forced Disappearances and its associated events highlighted the legal deficiencies in the Colombian justice system in relation to its responses regarding the ongoing spate of human rights violations.
Figures from the National Commission for the Search of Disappeared Persons – a permanent national body, created in 2000 by Law 589 – suggest that after more than 50 years of internal conflict, they have witnessed at least 61,604 cases of forced disappearances. Colombia stands second amongst such countries with the most disappearances in Latin America after Argentina, where disappearances occurred mainly during the Dirty War. This means that thousands of Colombians have undeniably been subjected to arbitrary arrests and abductions “by the state or agents of the state who then deny that the person is being held or conceal their whereabouts, placing them outside the protection of the law.” The state operatives, paramilitaries, and guerrillas have been complicit in these crimes.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Guest Scholar Delphine Mechoulany.
To read the full article, click here.

When Will Washington Learn? Alternative Drug Policies Needed to Prevent Violence

Distressingly, the United States has long ignored its role in the illegal drug trade and its contribution to the ongoing violence plaguing the territory throughout Mexico and Colombia. Recently, however, counteractive efforts have begun to assume an inclination toward violence as a strategy to curtail the further proliferation of drug trafficking and illegal immigration from Colombia and Mexico. Similarly, Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s strategy of rooting out drug cartels with widespread flame and combat has only aggravated the problem. Over the course of a four-year initiative, over forty thousand Mexicans have been killed, the overwhelming majority of whom had no connection to drug cartels. New York Times columnist Damien Cave’s article on the hacker syndicate Anonymous retells how after the Zetas drug cartel kidnapped an Anonymous employee, the syndicate released a haunting video (much like those filmed and used for intimidation by the Zetas), threatening to release hundreds of names of political officials tied to the cartel, intending to foment violence against those individuals. This poses a terrifying situation: responding to the violence in Mexico and Colombia with further unchecked, unplanned violence.

These sorts of tactics, along with policy suggestions of U.S.-sponsored military action in Mexico, are a step in a decisively wrong direction. If the costly, detailed anti-drug campaigns were not capable of preventing the further diffusion of illegal drugs and migrants into the U.S., it is foolish to think that an all-out drug war could ever be effective in resolving the issue. Past administrations have often marginalized the problems associated with the drug trade, insisting that developing solutions should not be the responsibility of the U.S. government, but rather should remain an initiative solely under Colombian or Mexican control.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Zac Deibel.
To read the full analysis, click here.

Tuesday November 1st, 2011 | Research Memorandum 11.3
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The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org.

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