Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law has achieved little in a year and a half and the government’s protection program leaves people vulnerable, said a land restitution leader on Wednesday.
“It’s a facade, I do not believe in the Victims Law,” Rosa Amelia Hernandez, a land restitution leader in the northern Colombian department of Cordoba, told Colombia Reports. “There’s no support. Many people have not heard of the law and we have to meet in the street because we have nowhere else.”
In an interview with Silla Vacia, Hernandez, a delegate of the National Council of Land Restitution, said that the program to protect claimants from violence is failing, leaving them “unprotected and vulnerable.”
“When they passed the Victims Law there was great happiness. We thought all our problems were going to be solved. I felt fulfilled but the cure has been worse than the disease. We were so excited that now we can only feel disappointment,” said the community activist.
President Juan Manuel Santos passed a law to restore land to the victims of Colombia’s armed conflict and hailed it as one of his flagship programs upon arrival in office. He also promised improved government protection for people attempting to claim their rights, who are often threatened by paramilitaries and other armed groups who want control of the land.
“Threats have intensified against community leaders,” Hernandez claimed. “But many people have had their security programs ended without reason…and left in a situation of total vulnerability.”
Many people are reportedly scared to report the threats they receive, threats that often come from neo-paramilitary groups who, according to the community leader, are “the same people” who were in the AUC, which was demobilized by former president, Alvaro Uribe.
Hernandez also denounced the way police and government officials deal with victims of displacement. According to her, some police actually accuse the victims themselves of being the cause of their troubles, and officials often act as though anything they do for the victims is “a favor.”
“I think the officials here in the Cordoba department haven’t read the law,” Hernandez said.
If it were up to her, some victims of the conflict would be given jobs as officials in the land restitution process, however, Hernandez also said that complaining to the government has proven to be “a waste of time.”
Some NGOs have also questioned the progress of land restitution under the Victims Law, claiming in September that most of the groups returning to their land had done so on their own accord without government assistance.
The Colombian government highlighted 12 locations where they claimed the process of land restitution is taking place, including parts of the Cordoba department. The government said it gave financial compensation to more than 150,000 people in the first year of the Victims Law alone. According to local media, there are now more than five million victims of Colombia’s conflict, 79% of whom were forcibly displaced.