BOGOTA (AlertNet) - One year after Colombia enacted a law that aims to compensate millions of victims of the country’s armed conflict, the country's president has warned the process will take time and has urged victims to be patient.
Colombia’s victims’ law offers financial compensation of up to $12,000 to families of those who died by violence committed by all sides of the conflict – sides including leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and state security forces. The compensation covers incidents dating back to 1985.
The law also aims to return to rightful owners over 6 million hectares of land that was snatched or unlawfully purchased by illegal armed groups.
“This is a huge, huge effort,” President Juan Manuel Santos said of the victims’ law, speaking to AlertNet. “The amount of money involved, the amount of logistics involved will force the state to be very efficient and effective.”
But gaining compensation could take time for some.
“Don’t forget it’s a long-term process,” said Santos. “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.”
Colombia’s nearly 50-year conflict has claimed some 200,000 lives, rights groups say. Violence has driven nearly 4 million Colombians from their homes and left nearly 10,000 landmine victims, according to government figures.
Few doubt the political will to forge ahead with the multi-billion dollar initiative, a centre-piece of Santos’s efforts to heal the wounds of war and tackle the country's long-running land tenure problem.
“Of course, as time goes by we will also learn from the experience. This is something unique. No other country has done this before,” Santos added. “Don’t forget that we still have a conflict and we are doing a tremendous effort in the middle of the conflict by trying to give reparations to victims.”
Some experts say the victims’ law faces significant challenges, including an incomplete land registry plagued with falsified deeds, along with a slow justice system.
Another major hurdle is ensuring that conflict-ridden areas where state military presence is still fragile are safe for the return of displaced families. This is particularly the case along Colombia’s jungle borders and southern provinces.
“It is obvious that people who were displaced by violence have fear,” Santos said. “What we need is to create confidence. That’s why we are choosing the areas first where the security situation is absolutely controlled in order to guarantee that there are no security problems. This is something that was expected.”
While Colombia’s conflict has eased, fighting between government troops and the 8,000-strong FARC rebels still continues.
Some drug-running armed groups, which still occupy much of the stolen land, are aiming to maintain control in their fiefdoms, along cocaine-smuggling routes and in areas rich in gold and oil, according to the Consultancy for Human Rights and Displacement (CODHES), a leading rights group in Colombia.
And while that lasts, little land will be returned, some rights groups say.
It means some displaced families are too afraid to return home, even with money and land titles in their hands.
At least 50 land activists campaigning for the return of stolen land to its rightful owners have been murdered in Colombia over the last three years, local rights groups say.
So far, some 40,000 Colombians have received some sort of financial compensation from the government under the victims’ law.
A few days ago, 65-year-old widow Luz Cardona received nearly $12,000 from the government after the murder of her husband at the hands of paramilitaries 15 years ago.
She plans to share the money with her son and fix the leaking roof of her one-bedroom home.
“It’s a help. I’m very grateful,” she told AlertNet. “But no amount of money in the world can bring back my husband.”
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)