In this third post, I intend to briefly expose the two main mechanisms created in Colombia. 

Based on the previous post, two main mechanisms have been used for searching and protecting missing persons in Colombia. The first mechanism has a judicial approach and the second one humanitarian approach. The first of them has two main tools: i) Commission for the Search of Missing Persons through Law 589 of 2000, which was created with the aim of seeking all the victims who were disappeared and murdered; and ii) the Urgent Search Mechanism (Mecanismo de Búsqueda Urgente) as an important tool for exercise relatives’ right of forced missing. This mechanism was centrally oriented to the determination of the occurrence of crime through the criminal proceeding, and this is why it is known as a judicial mechanism.[1]

On the other hand, the second mechanism is the “Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas dadas por Desaparecidas” (UBPD), which was part of the Peace Agreement with the guerrilla armed group (FARC-EP) in 2016. This Unit has been conceivedas a humanitarian and extra-judicial mechanism to address exclusively the search for missing persons in the context of the armed conflict.[2]

Although both approaches gave rise to different mechanisms for searching missing persons, they have a different scope in their mandates. The main differences in their scope are related to how they work and the period of time which was covered.

  1.  Commission for the Search of Missing Person

The Commission for the Search of Missing Persons has a judicial approach for searching for missing persons through the criminal proceeding. This approach leaves out too many missing persons in the context of armed conflict. On the other side, UBPD has another approach to search and find missing persons by means of an extrajudicial and humanitarian searching process.    

One of the two mechanisms has a broader approach to the searching process of missing persons. It is well known that IHL stated the obligation to search for persons reported missing and transmit all relevant information in order to facilitate such searches.  The above constitutes the implementation of the fundamental principle of protection and care set out in Article 7 of Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions.

  • Unidad de Búsqueda de Personas dadas por Desaparecidas (UBPD)

The UBPD is a broader mechanism due to the extrajudicial and humanitarian approach for the searching process of missing persons, which allows satisfying the needs of their families as well as fulfilling the obligations of IHL.  

According to this design, the Colombian State can fulfill its obligations and satisfy the families’ needs as it knows the fate and whereabouts of the missing persons and their relatives. At the same time, members of non-state armed groups can contribute to the location of the dead or alive to know the fate of their families.  

This contribution by members of non-state armed groups and third parties is based on the principle of conditionality.  If they want to receive the benefits of the transitional justice process, they must help with the searching process. The foregoing seeks to guarantee the fulfillment of the duty to take all feasible measures to know the whereabouts and fate of missing persons.

Respect to this mentioned before, organized armed groups as a party to the non-international conflict have the same obligations that state. However, the implementation of this obligation requires stronger political will and cooperation of all parties. This mechanism is an opportunity for organized armed groups to fulfill their obligations to relatives for missing persons. The great virtue of the Unit is that it aims to alleviate the suffering of family members beyond the limits of iw.

A few days ago, UBPD presented the new strategy for searching missing persons, Plan Nacional de Búsqueda; that responds to a paradigm shift in the search process, from a judicial perspective to an extrajudicial and humanitarian perspective. This document is the result of a participatory process with the victims. Finally, you could review the document with its strategic lines in the following link: https://www.ubpdbusquedadesaparecidos.co/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/DocumentoPNB_05052020..pdf


[1] ‘Grupo Interno de Trabajo de Búsqueda, Identificación y Entrega de Personas Desaparecidas (GRUBE) | Fiscalía General de La Nación’ <https://www.fiscalia.gov.co/colombia/sobre-el-grupo-interno-de-trabajo/> accessed 7 June 2019.

[2] ‘UBPD: Acerca de La Búsqueda de Personas Desaparecidas’ (UBPD, 5 March 2019) <https://www.ubpdbusquedadesaparecidos.co/sobre-la-busqueda/> accessed 7 June 2019.