A milestone for the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia and the possible step towards peace and reconciliation was reached this week.
The historical event took place when the Colombian Senate approved a new law to compensate victims of the country's long-running armed conflict and return land to millions of displaced persons.
Colombia’s Victims’ Law enacted – Last stand or new beginning for programmatic property restitution? (By Rhodri C. Williams, NRC 14 June, )
'Historic' Colombian victims' compensation law signed (BBC News, 11 June)
For more than 40 years, Colombia has seen armed conflict, fighting and violence by the insurgency, paramilitaries and the security forces of the State resulting in one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, officially estimated at 3.5 million persons according to the government, and over 4.9 million persons according to the non-governmental Observatory on Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES).
The armed conflict is still on-going and human rights violations and infractions of international humanitarian law are reported, but the law provides opportunities for reparation to victims and for returning land that has been unlawfully taken form IDPs. “The law and its implementation should be supported by the international community both politically, technically and financially”, according to the Country Director of NRC Colombia, Mr Atle Solberg.
The law provides financial compensation to civilians who have had their fundamental freedoms and rights violated by the insurgency, the paramilitary and by the State. It also aims to restore lands lost by rural Colombians during the conflict, confiscated or unlawfully purchased by illegal armed groups. Combined with an ambitious programme of rural development, the law aims to restore millions of hectares of misappropriated land to up to two million internally displaced persons.
Significantly, the Victims´ law legally recognises for the first time that the State is responsible for violations of human rights and infractions of international humanitarian law committed by agents and security forces of the State.
Implementation of the law is faced with many challenges: Several local leaders who campaigned for their communities to return to their land have been killed in recent months. Attempts to restore land are already under way but illegal armed groups have tried to undermine the process. For land restitution to be successful, the government must restore its monopoly on the use of power in areas controlled by illegal and organised armed groups and ensure that those that want to have their property restored to them are provided with robust, sustainable and institutional protection of their physical and social integrity.
“To ensure security and protection for the victims and the IDPs is the greatest challenge facing implementation of the law”, according to Mr Solberg, and “it must be an urgent priority for the government to develop actions of prevention and protection as well as ensuring that affected populations can participate genuinely and actively in its implementation”.