Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | September 19, 2013

HRW: threats and violence will increase for land claims and families returning home.

In mid-May of 2011, Colombia’s Senate approved the Victims Law to financially compensate, anywhere between $10,000 to $20,000, and return land to about four million displaced people, all victims of rebels, paramilitaries and drug traffickers.

A new report by Human Rights Watch, titled “The Risk of Returning Home: Violence and Threats against Displaced People Reclaiming Land in Colombia,” confirmed that due to Colombia’s lack of justice for forced displacement and land theft, the Victims Law has generated — and will continue to — more bloodshed.

Max Schoening, researcher at Human Rights Watch explains.

The facts:

4,866,844 Colombians were displaced between 1985 and August 2013, according to the government. This is the world’s largest population of internally displaced people.

5 convictions, as of January 2012, for cases of forced displacement in Antioquia, Bolívar, Cesar, Meta, and Tolima, the five states with the highest number of restitution claims filed in Colombia at the time, and where at least 1.7 million people have been displaced since 1985, according to government data.

More than 17,000 open investigations into cases of forced displacement handled by the main prosecutorial unit dedicated to pursuing such crimes throughout Colombia.

Fewer than 1 per cent of criminal investigations into forced displacements have yielded convictions, as of January 2012.

More than 500 displaced land claimants and their leaders from over 25 states have reported to authorities that they had received threats as of January 2012.

Upward of 360 threatened claimants and leaders are at “extraordinary risk” because of their land restitution activities, according to the government.

360,000 restitution claims was what the government estimated it would process through Victims Law by 2021.

43,590 land restitution claims were filed through Victims Law as of June 30, 2013.

8,477 land restitution claims filed through Victims Law were being examined by Restitution Unit as of June 30, 2013.

446 claims filed through Victims Law have resulted in court rulings ordering land restitution as of June 30, 2013.

1 family, as of July 2013, had returned to live on their land as a result of rulings under the Victims Law and with the support of the government office coordinating displaced people’s return home.

23,000 square miles (6 million hectares), roughly the size of Massachusetts and Maryland combined, is the estimated total of land from which mostly poor peasants have been displaced. That is about 5.2 percent of the entire country of Colombia.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch-Americas, said, “Prosecutors have not charged a single suspect in any of their investigations into threats against displaced land claimants and leaders in retaliation for their restitution efforts. … Unless Colombia starts to ensure justice for abuses against land claimants, they will continue to be killed, threatened, and displaced for seeking to reclaim what’s theirs.”

The HRW report is 184 pages and took a year and a half to research.


Colombia: Displaced and Discarded: The Plight of Internally Displaced Persons in Bogotá and Cartagena.

Challenges of the Victims’ Law


  1. The main subject in colombian conflict is that of the land, it probably has its roots in the birth of the country, when aristocrats lend their territory to farmers to make them rich, this frame of thought is engraved in people’s mind in such way that has endured over the couple centuries, until now, the elite does not consider that the farmer has enough intelligence to manage a land of his own (quoting Miguel Gómez politician grandson of Laureano Gómez former president). The victims law in the end functions as a specific pointer of the people that claim justice, along with their descendants for the pourpose of exterminating any legal resource for reparation in this country.

  2. Do you think that tying military aid to human rights issues in Colombia would make any dent in injustice and impunity there?

    I remembered a question from Kate Doyle, National Security Archive, in an article about US military support of Colombia (

    “Beyond the question of military aid, what could have been achieved if the
    United States had invested those millions instead in educational
    institutions, the economies and the justice systems of Central America?”

    I asked her how the US could support the Colombian justice system and she had these suggestions:

    “Investment in long-term “capacitación” (training/skills) for judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers. Support for anti-corruption initiatives within the judicial system. US aid dollars to judicial and law enforcement institutions (such as the Public Ministries and General National Prosecutors, which investigate and prosecute crime). Investment in national law schools and other legal educational institutions. Creation of visiting-students program so that Latin American law students can spend a semester, a year, or the full three years at cooperating international law schools (in the US, Spain, other
    countries with great schools). Support for research institutions and civil
    society groups that promote judicial research and reform. Regional and
    international conferences that promote dialogue and experience-sharing among judges or lawyers.”

    Unfortunately, people cannot make headway on this matter if lawyers, judges, farmers, etc. involved in land restitution cannot be protected from those who would harm them.

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