Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dawnie W. Steadman

Committee Members

Tricia R. Hepner, Jana Morgan, Amy Mundorff, Raja Swamy


The first process of transitional justice in Colombia was implemented in 2005 through the Law of Justice and Peace (LJP) that focused on the demobilization of paramilitary groups under the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez. Although the LJP has received multiple criticisms, state bureaucracy has portrayed forensic intervention as ‘the great success’ of the transitional justice process.In this dissertation, based on 11 months of ethnographic research in Colombia, I explore whether an efficient methodology existed on the part of forensic state agencies in order to find and identify the remains of forcibly disappeared persons and the role(s) that families have played in the forensic process from the investigation to the return of the remains of their relatives. Results indicate that despite the fact that there was a solid instrument like the National Search Plan for Disappeared Persons, the plan was irregularly and incompletely implemented. In fact, the search for the disappeared was mainly based on testimonial evidence provided by perpetrators, which was almost never verified and/or compared to other sources of information as it was assumed that the confession was true. This led to unmethodical archaeological recoveries and problems with the identification of remains as these almost always lacked a presumptive identity. Regarding the participation of families, results suggest that relatives have been treated more as sample donors than as active subjects in the forensic process.Finally, I examine if families’ perceptions of truth, justice and reparation have been fulfilled by forensic networks in the framework of the LJP. Results indicate that a ‘transitional friction’ occurs when the homogenizing concepts and ideas promoted by the discourse of transitional justice lift up particular understandings of truth, justice and reparation and ignore local perceptions of victims and grassroots communities. Particularly, I highlight as problematic the fact that forensic evidence, and thus, ‘forensic truths’ have not been used to aid judiciary investigations to reveal the responsibilities in the perpetration of the crime of forced disappearance, thus contributing to the impunity that is still enjoyed by many state agents who participated in this and many other crimes perpetrated in the company of paramilitaries.

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