Over 1,080 bodies have been found in at least 190 Colombian rivers, according to the project “Rivers of Life and Death” run by several journalists from the Paths of Conflicts and Redaction Council released on Wednesday.
During Colombia’s internal conflict, the practice has been taken to an unprecedented level by paramilitary groups, found the researchers, as they presented their first conclusions during a public event at the University Javeriana.
The estimate was collected from the National Center for Historical Memory, or CNMH.
Eight percent of the bodies found were thrown in the river by guerrilla groups.
The center also found evidence involving state agents trying to hide the truth under the water, usually in collaboration with paramilitary groups. The Public Ministry found that state officials asked the Bloque Centauros —part of the Self-Defense Units of Colombia— to hide the bodies so the death toll in the province of Guaviare would not increase.
Researchers highlighted variations around the practice, such as torture, or manipulating the bodies in an “irrational or atrocious way” so they would not float in the water. The intention was not always to hide their crimes, but also punish and explicitly prevent relatives from recovering the bodies.
Among the victims, researchers found social leaders, fighters punished over their behavior —or when they decide to leave the criminal group—, or civilians who would refuse to pay a bribe for instance.
The authors of the reports urged authorities to keep investigating and identifying the bodies with the support of new technologies, countering the common idea that once they disappeared in the water, nothing much can be done, although efforts have started since the peace accords in 2016.
The CNMH estimates that about 83,000 have disappeared in the country during the conflict.
Truth commissions in Chile and South Africa also discovered similar practices during their own dirty wars, as a way to hide atrocities committed by state agents.