A joint publication released in September 2012 by Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) estimates 360,000 families on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia have been forced from their land due to violence. Representatives from these organizations travelled to Colombia this June to assess progress of Colombia’s Victims’ and Land Restitution Law, which aims to provide reparations to victims of conflict. This law is funded and promoted by the U.S. government. USAID states that although 15,208 claims have been made, no land has yet been restituted. Family displacement continues to take place today as large-scale corporations legally and illegally take over land.
Research carried out by LWR and LAWGEF reveals that local governments have little know-how and no resources for carrying out Victims’ Law implementation. Additionally, high risk of corruption exists in properly identifying victims, since it is determined by local authorities. These issues are compounded by the fact that victims lack legal assistance to help them defend their rights and access restitution. Families without titles to their land such as many campesinos, Afro-Colombian and indigenous people, are especially vulnerable to reverse land reform.
LWR and LAWGEF emphasize the importance of closely monitoring the Victims’ Law, and make policy recommendations to the Colombian and U.S. governments.
Recommendations to the U.S. government:
- Condition assistance for Victims’ Law on greatly improved actions to protect returned and returning community members and land rights leaders, with protection plans created with full participation of affected individuals
- Provide assistance for protection programs and land titling, as well as increased legal accompaniment for victims via the Ombudsman’s Office and personeros
- Fund and work with existing campesino and victims’ organizations rather than creating new ones to ensure unity in social movement
- Withhold certification on human rights conditions if the Colombian government moves to approve legislation that would result in human rights violations
- Actively monitor the implementation of the Labor Action Plan, pressing for full implementation, particularly the elimination of all forms of illegal subcontracting, protection of the right to organize, protection of union leaders, and prosecution of threats and attacks against union members.
- Urge the Colombian government to take a more vigorous approach to capturing and dismantling paramilitary successor groups
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