Casanare, Colombia

Estimates of Killings and Disappearances in Casanare

Casanare is a large, rural department or state in Colombia that includes 19 municipalities and a population of almost 300,000 inhabitants. Located in the foothills of the Andes and on the eastern plains, Casanare has a history of violence. Multiple armed groups have operated in Casanare including paramilitaries, guerillas and the Colombian military. Many Casanare citizens have suffered violent deaths and disappearances.

But how many people have been killed or disappeared? For reasons of policy, accountability and historical clarification, this question deserves a valid answer. In February 2010, the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) released a study analyzing the patterns of violence in Casanare from 1998 to 2007. Entitled “To Count the Uncounted: An Estimation of Lethal Violence in Casanare,” this study uses a technique called Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) to calculate the magnitude of these violations. The authors analyzed multiple datasets containing all known cases of these violent acts to determine whether some of the same incidents are repeated in different datasets. Matching the cases that appear in more than one dataset allows the HRDAG statisticians to model the process by which these violations are recorded. Using this method, the authors can estimate the number of killings and disappearances in Casanare that were never recorded.

In this study, the authors used information about victims of killings and disappearances provided by 15 datasets. The datasets come from state agencies – including government, security, forensic and judicial bodies – and from civil society organizations. The authors show how descriptive statistical analyses of violence drawn from individual datasets can be misleading.

The study finds that the peak in overall disappearances in 2001 largely took place in the southern region of Casanare, precisely at the time when reported killings in that region were at the lowest. The results show that killings have been widespread in Casanare, reaching a peak in 2004. The peak in killings in 2004 was consistent across the regions of Casanare except the plains region, where the authors estimate relatively more killings in 2006.

In regions where estimated totals of killings and disappearances appeared to be low, the population-adjusted analysis reveals a relatively higher per capita toll on the population. In particular, the Piedemonte region had some of the highest rates of disappearances in the department proportional to its population size. The report concludes by observing that disappearances are committed in different times and places than killings, suggesting that perpetrators changed their methods of lethal violence during the course of the conflict.

The study on lethal violations in Casanare builds on a report published in October of 2007 entitled “Missing People In Casanare.” This report, published in partnership with the forensic non-governmental organization EQUITAS, provides a scientific estimation of the number of unreported missing people in Casanare. The report helped guide investigations of missing persons across Colombia where data collection efforts are vital to understanding the magnitude, trends and patterns of violence.

HRDAG estimates that the total number of missing persons in Casanare from 1986-2007 is 2,553 compared to the 1,500 persons reported missing during this period. This analysis suggests that between thirty and forty percent of missing persons in Casanare were unreported during this period. This report is also available in Spanish “Los Desaparecidos de Casanare.

“Missing People In Casanare” was positively received by families of the disappeared, non-governmental organizations and members of the diplomatic community in Colombia. The analysis helps these groups work more effectively with Colombian authorities involved in searching for the disappeared and conducting exhumations. The release of this report coincided with an expanded effort by a National Search Commission to search for missing persons in Casanare.

*If you use these data, please cite them with the following citation, as well as this note:

“These are convenience sample data, and as such they are not a statistically representative sample of events in this conflict.  These data do not support conclusions about patterns, trends, or other substantive comparisons (such as over time, space, ethnicity, age, etc.).”

Tamy Guberek, Daniel Guzmán, Megan Price, Kristian Lum and Patrick Ball. (2010). Benetech/Human Rights Data Analysis Group database of lethal violence in Casanare.

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