For weeks, Yanette Bautista has had her bag ready to run to the Congress of the Republic. She is waiting on the phone in case the moment comes when the Colombian congressmen finally decide to put the bill that she leads and has been her entire life on the front line: the one that promotes the rights of women who search for missing Every day, something gets in the way, this Wednesday, when it was the first issue to be discussed, it was the taxi driver stoppages. The project falls off the agenda or is postponed, as if forced disappearance were something that didn’t matter, were something minimal, when the most conservative figures speak of 120,000 disappeared, and the Truth Commission puts the figure at 200,000 victims. “We have the record in Latin America,” emphasizes Yanette at the headquarters of her foundation in Bogotá.
In 1987, she was an executive secretary in a multinational and the fight for human rights was not in her life project. That changed on August 30 of that year, when her sister Nydia Erika was disappeared by members of the Army on the day of her 12-year-old son’s first communion. Nydia was an M19 militant and was taken by armed men from the XX Brigade to a farm where she was held captive, tortured, and sexually assaulted. Her body appeared days later on a road near Bogotá. He was buried unidentified, and the family could only be certain of her identity more than a decade later. The fight for justice is not over yet. The perpetrators are still free.
“The forced disappearance of my sister put me against a reality that I never imagined existed and on another path to follow, because having known that reality, I could not work as if nothing was happening in this country. I was never the same again”, says Yanette, now 66 years old, at the headquarters of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation, which she created to fight against impunity and which brings together women seekers. You arrive at her office after entering Revoltosas, a clothing and jewelry store with which these women survive, and it is a bright room in which images of the protests of more than three decades stand out. One of them recalls that there are more disappeared in Colombia than under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile and ends with a phrase that questions society: “And who cares?”
Indifference, says Bautista, is the third leg of impunity in forced disappearance. The other two, he affirms, are the negligence of justice, which played a role in human rights violations; and the media, which did not make visible the dimension of this crime against humanity. For this reason, she believes that it is time for Colombia to have a law that comprehensively protects the women who continue to search, so that they are considered subjects of special constitutional protection and peace builders. She says women, because 95% of those who seek are mothers, wives, sisters and daughters; the other 5% are parents.
Yannette Bautista (center), after the first debate in the chamber on the bill.Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation
What is the law?
In practice, the project intends for the State to give priority attention to what happens to women who search for the disappeared during their investigations. It’s not little. They suffer threats, kidnappings, extortion, reprisals, recruitment of their minor children or sexual violence against the girls who are left unprotected while their mothers look for other sons and daughters, fight to recover the bodies, bury them and avoid impunity. Yanette herself suffered death threats and had to go into exile.
In this way, they aim for the National Protection Unit to prioritize the threats they receive; and that, by being considered peace builders, they have a voice in the negotiations that are advancing towards total peace, the project of the current Government to achieve simultaneous negotiations with different armed groups.
The bill, which passed its first debate in May and this Tuesday finally reached the plenary session of the House of Representatives, is the work of eight women’s organizations. It is based on reports that they delivered to the Truth Commission, created after the peace agreements between the State and the extinct FARC, including one that indicates that in each family there are two seekers, so there are some 400,000 people. “A forced disappearance affects on average the lives of between five and ten relatives per victim, and if Sumercé looks at the indigenous and black worldview and its concept of extended family, the universe of those affected can be larger and reach 2 million people. Yanette says as she takes notes to answer each question in detail.
The economic life of women seekers is often made invisible. Many lose their jobs for prioritizing the search for their loved ones, drop out of school, are displaced and survive poorly. They also bet on improving this situation with the law that, however, would not have a fiscal impact for the State, because it includes them in existing public institutions and policies. “We do not ask that women seekers have better treatment than others, but rather a priority. That these women can dream of entering the university, having decent housing, health, pension ”she adds. She herself has dedicated her life to the search and, although she is a recognized leader in the world – she has won the Shalom Prize from the Catholic University of Eichstätt (Germany) and the Human Rights Prize from Amnesty International, among others – she will not have a pension.
After years of protesting and rowing, they decided to write and translate concrete proposals. They have done so with technical advice from the United Nations Office for Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Pastoral Social and the Embassy of the Netherlands. One of the articles proposes that they have benefits in enrollment to access higher education and credits for their families, as well as access to housing projects and specific measures to address the multiple health problems that have worsened due to the violence they have suffered. in search.
Yanette Bautista, at the headquarters of the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation. CAMILA ACOSTA
Another of the keys to the project is the creation of a Unique Registry of Women Seekers of Victims of Forced Disappearance, so that the Comprehensive Reparation Unit for Victims has accurate information about them; and measures to raise social awareness about forced disappearance. “If society reacted or felt ashamed of this crime and joined our fight, at least we wouldn’t be so alone. We have been like this for a long time ”, concludes Yannette Bautista, who was waiting for this Wednesday the bill and her life to be the first in importance in Congress and in the country. At the last minute, the congressmen canceled the appointment of the Seeking Women.
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