Approximately 1.7% of land restitution requests in Colombia have received a court ruling, reported local media on Tuesday.
A report by the Medellin-based Shaping the Future Foundation indicated that out of the 54,000 applications that have been submitted since the implementation of the Victims and Land Restitution Act, only 964 have received a ruling.
|“The low number of requests that have occurred in the country are due to the victim’s fear of threats, attacks and murders that have been committed against leaders and claimants [of the land restitution process].|
The Victims’ Attention and Reparation Unit classifies “internal displacement victims” as Colombian residents who have suffered human right’s violations since 10 January 1985, and general leads to land dispossession.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law was passed by President Santos in June 2011 with much hope that it would deliver some sense of justice to those affected by the nearly 50-year armed conflict, but since then little land has been returned. NGOs and other commentators have questioned the government’s commitment to the law, which is supposed to return over 4.9 million acres of land to its rightful owners
Santos has come under fire in the past for the shortcomings of the land restitution program. In September 2013, the government had allegedly issued 666 legal land restitution orders but only three families had actually returned to living on their lands.
One of the world’s most displaced populations
Due to the ongoing conflict that has seen the deaths of more than 220,000 people since 1958, Colombia now has one of the world’s highest populations of internally displaced citizens. According to the UNHCR, March 2013 figures revealed that 4.7 million people were internally displaced within Colombia, including 150,000 in 2012 alone.
The displacements are the result of a complex five-decade-long conflict between government, armed guerrilla and paramilitary forces, which has exacerbated corruption within the military and the legal system, facilitated the problematic drug trade, entrenched criminal and neo-paramilitary groups and allowed human rights abuses to go unpunished.
The report also states that given the low amount of claims filed, the government will most likely fall short of its goal of restoring the land rights of victims in ten years.
“The low number of requests that have occurred in the country are due to the victim’s fear of threats, attacks and murders that have been committed against leaders and claimants [of the land restitution process],” said Gerardo Vega, director of the Shaping the Future Foundation, in an interview with Colombia’s El Pais newspaper,
Between January and September 2013, 700 people who had applied for land restitution reported threats to authorities. Since 2008, a reported 43 murders have been linked to land restitution attempts.
According to a statement made by President Juan Manuel Santos, approximately 1,500 displaced Colombians have seen their stolen lands returned in the last 13 months.
Vega’s stated that there are other factors that are slowing down the land restitution process as well, such as victims being wary of authorities, and the excessive paperwork and procedures that are required by the government’s Land Restitution Unit.
Streamline the process
Santos announced last week that he would introduce a bill that seeks to streamline the process, making it easier for victims of forced displacement to file land restitution requests.
The bill would allow any unopposed requests to be handled administratively, instead of through agrarian courts as the current regulations require.
The director of the Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation, Leon Valencia, said the process was further complicated however by the fact that the restitution process has to be carried out in places that are effectively still considered conflict zones.
According to Valencia, this slows down the process drastically, since teams that conduct research and interviews on the various claims filed must first consult the Ministry of Defense.
“Instead of allowing restitution in all of the country’s at-risk zones and facilitating the process of compensation, they [government] have invented a term called ‘micro-focus’ which means one has to go to the Ministry of Defense to ask where restitution can be carried out, thereby turning the military into the officials of the process,” said Valencia in an interview with El Pais.
- Restitucion de Tierras (Fundacion Forjando Futuros)
- Solo el 1,7 % de solicitudes de restitución de tierras ha sido fallado en Colombia (El Pais)