Almost 40,000 people were abducted during the 40 years of Colombia’s civil war, according to a study published on Thursday, the first attempt to quantify the scourge of kidnapping.
The research, released by the Center for Historical Memory in Bogota, was commissioned by police and prosecutors and compiled with help from nongovernmental groups and financing from the European Union.
The report found that 39,058 people were abducted at least once between 1970 and 2010 in Colombia.
The center said it hoped the study would lead to “justice and reparations” for those who lost days, weeks or in some cases even years to captivity.
“We are convinced that this statistical data is a way to give voice to the victims,” the authors of the report said.
The document said the figure represents the best available estimate on the number of people abducted over the years, adding that “there is no way to know with certainty how many kidnap victims there were.”
The typical abductee was an adult male who lived in the countryside and, while kidnappings of foreigners garner widespread media attention, they account for just three percent of abductions in Colombia.
The study said that most of the victims were held for ransom and were returned to their families after a period of captivity that usually lasted between one day and one month.
Colombia’s insurgency was launched in 1964, and marks the half-century milestone next year.
Land distribution was one of the triggers of the decades-old conflict in this Andean country, where there is gaping inequality between wealthy landowners and poor peasants.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is the country’s largest guerrilla group with some 8,000 fighters. The second largest, the Army of National Liberation or ELN, has some 2,500 fighters.
The government is currently in peace talks with the FARC, but so far has excluded the ELN from the dialogue.