Seeking the fate of nearly 50,000 Colombians who disappeared during the country's civil war should become a "national cause," a top presidential adviser said Tuesday as the government faces criticism that it is failing to do enough to find them.
Government efforts to increase searches and offer compensation to relatives of those who disappeared during five decades of armed conflict have been slow and must be stepped up, critics and families say.
About 220,000 people were killed in the war, and all the factions — state security forces, government troops, paramilitary groups and leftist rebels — are responsible for the forced disappearances, according to Colombia's National Center for Historical Memory.
"May the cause of the disappeared become a national cause," Paula Gaviria, presidential adviser on human rights, told a conference in Bogota.
A peace accord was signed last year between the government and rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and families of the disappeared say they hope the rebels will reveal grave locations as part of a deal to avoid long prison terms and be allowed to enter politics.
The government offers up to $8,600 U.S. in compensation for relatives and has passed a law paving the way for a special search unit, including forensic teams, to help find, identify and exhume bodies.
But the unit has yet to start work, and its director has still not been appointed.
"The search unit will have to make an enormous effort to contribute to the truth," Gaviria said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged the government to speed up the process.
"This makes it necessary to push forward, with firm political will, in making concrete progress in the search for missing people," Christoph Harnisch, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia, said in a statement. "The steps so far taken in this direction aren't enough."
Martin Santiago, U.N. resident coordinator in Colombia, said relatives have a right to know what happened to their missing loved ones.
"Victims must have the right to know the circumstances, manner and place of the crime, as well as the collective right to know the truth," he said at the same conference.