MEDELLIN, Colombia (AlertNet) - For the past 12 years, the Mothers of La Candelaria have gathered outside the cathedral in Colombia's second biggest city, Medellin, every Friday afternoon.
Near the cathedral steps, women from the group light candles and place photos of their husbands, children and relatives who have disappeared, been killed or kidnapped during Colombia's nearly 50-year-old conflict.
Last year, families of victims killed or suspected to have been killed in the war between leftist guerrillas, rightwing paramilitary militias and state security forces received a boost when a law was signed offering them compensation for their loss.
Up to $12,000 is being offered to victims' families under legislation, known as the victims' law, which covers incidents dating back to 1985.
But for some Colombians, like Teresita Gaviria, who heads the Mothers of La Candelaria women's rights group, money cannot compensate for not knowing what happened to her son.
"My son disappeared 14 years and three months ago. He was 15 years old," Gaviria told AlertNet.
"I can't bring myself to put in a claim. My son isn't a piece of paper. The truth is the most important thing. I'd prefer to bury my son than receive money from the state."
The law also aims to return over 6 million hectares of land that was snatched or unlawfully purchased by illegal armed groups to their rightful owners.
So far, some 40,000 Colombians have received some sort of financial compensation from the government under the victims' law. Over the next two years, the government plans to compensate a total of 400,000 victims.
But getting compensation to the millions of victims and returning stolen land will take time, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos told AlertNet.
"Don't forget it's a long-term process," Santos said. "Don't expect that all the victims will be given reparations in the short run. The law was designed for 10 years and it will take 10 years."
Still, for the Mothers of La Candelaria, the victims' law is helping to heal the wounds of war.
"Until recently, no one was taking about the disappeared. No one cared about us. It's been so humiliating,” Gaviria said. "But that's changing now with this government and the law. People are starting to listen and take into account our suffering."
The Mothers of La Candelaria campaign to get information about the estimated 50,000 Colombians who have gone missing. They also organise nationwide peace marches.
But it hasn't been easy for the tight-knit group of 755 women, who have become a potent symbol of justice in Colombia.
Over the years, Gaviria and other women from the group have received death threats over the telephone and by email.
"There are some people who don't want us to know the truth and be accused of murder and other crimes," said Gaviria, whose father was murdered by an illegal armed group.
DIGGING FOR REMAINS
Forensic teams and around 20 state prosecutors from Colombia's attorney-general's office are tasked with searching for the country's disappeared and exhuming bodies.
The authorities exhume more than 10 bodies every month.
Unearthing Colombia's estimated 25,000 unmarked graves is a painstaking process that could take at least 10 years, according to state prosecutors.
Gaviria blames her son's disappearance on paramilitary fighters but she has little hope of ever recovering his body.
"They (the paramilitaries) know what happened to him. We know the paramilitaries mutilated bodies, fed bodies to their pet tigers and threw body parts in rivers. What hope is there ever of finding my son?" Gaviria said.
If some Colombians are ever to get to the bottom of what happened to their loved ones, much depends on the will of the top paramilitary commanders currently behind bars.
In recent years militia leaders along with over 30,000 other paramilitary fighters, have laid down their arms as part of a controversial peace deal with the previous government.
The government promised them reduced jail sentences - a maximum of eight years for atrocities they committed such as massacres - in exchange for confessions and the return of grabbed land.
Earlier this week, Colombian prosecutors started exhuming numerous mass graves in a far-flung jungle area in the country's northeast. It is thought more than 150 victims are buried there.
This came after one infamous paramilitary commander recently gave evidence during an ongoing criminal trial that revealed the location of the mass graves.
While the authorities dig for bodies, the Mothers of the Candelaria, and tens of thousands of other Colombians, continue to wait for justice and answers about their loved ones.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen)