Wednesday marks Colombia’s “National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with Victims,” which pays tribute to the estimated 6 million victims of violence, that have been impacted by the country’s longstanding armed conflict.
In a statement released Wednesday, Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Colombia, Fabrizio Hochschild said “The best compensation for the victims would be a peace agreement, that seeks to restore their rights and rebuild trust between all sectors of society. Reconciliation requires a full recognition of the right to truth, justice and reparation.”
The statement also emphasized that violence in Colombia has taken many forms, including but not limited to, killing and forced displacement, recruitment and abduction of children, widespread use of land mines, sexual violence, threats and extortion.
Colombia’s National day of Remembrance and Solidarity also marks the 66th anniversary since the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. Gaitan’s assasination kick-started an uprising that first laid waste to Bogota, and later the rest of country in a period infamously known as “La Violencia.”
According to the Center for Historical Memory, more than 220,000 people have lost their lives since the conflict began in 1958.
Colombia has been engaged in five-decade-long conflict between government, armed guerrilla and paramilitary forces. This conflict has exacerbated corruption within the military and the legal system, facilitated drug trade, entrenched criminal and neo-paramilitary groups and allowed human rights abuses to go unpunished.
A study by the Unit for the Integral Care and Reparation for Victims reveals that an average of 10,000 people per month were displaced between November 2012 and December 2013.
Statistics provided by the Program for Comprehensive Action against Antipersonnel Mines (PAICMA) showed that within the same period of time, 28 people a month were victims of land mines, explosive devices, or unexploded ordinances. Thirteen percent of those that were killed or injured were children and adolescents.
Colombia also 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 Colombian government is currently making efforts to end the legacy of violence that has plagued the country for more than 50 years.
The government has been engaged in bilateral peace talks with the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, since November 2012.
According to the FARC’s Central Command, these talks offer “the only viable, civilized and humane alternative to put an end to this lengthy confrontation.”
The FARC, which has been fighting the Colombian state since its formation in 1964, has requested a “truth commission,” similar to the investigative bodies established in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Despite the FARC’s calls for such a commission, the guerrilla organization has continued launching attacks against the Colombian state, killing numerous police officers throughout the past month.
No cease-fire agreement has been reached between the Colombian government and the FARC.
The Colombian government has said that a truth commission will not be created until all points in the peace negotiation agenda have been agreed upon.
Colombia’s government is also making efforts to curb the influence of criminal gangs that emerged from the demobilization of the now defunct paramilitary organization, AUC.
Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law was enacted in 2005 to legally sustain a demobilization treaty between right-wing paramilitary group AUC and the government of former President Alvaro Uribe. In exchange for cooperating with authorities and demobilizing, the AUC received a pledge that no-one who came in as a result of the law would receive more than eight years in prison.
Although the AUC was formally demobilized in 2006, successor criminal groups were formed by mid-level commanders of the paramilitary organization, who did not take part in the demobilization process.
On Tuesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reminded the public that he recently proposed a bill to streamline the land restitution process, making it easier for victims of forced displacement to file land restitution requests.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law was passed by President Santos in June 2011, aiming to deliver some sense of justice to those affected by the nearly 50-year armed conflict. However, since then little land has been returned.
Under Colombia’s victims law, those personally affected by the armed conflict, as well as relatives of those who were killed or disappeared, are eligible for compensation.
On Wednesday morning the full Congress welcomed over 500 delegates from the victims of armed conflict as a symbolic act of redress to their plight.
- MENSAJE DEL COORDINADOR RESIDENTE Y HUMANITARIO DEL SISTEMA DE LAS NACIONES UNIDAS EN COLOMBIA, FABRIZIO HOCHSCHILD, CON OCASIÓN DEL DÍA NACIONAL DE LA MEMORIA Y LA SOLIDARIDAD CON LAS VÍCTIMAS (UN Colombia)
- Estadísticas del conflicto armado en Colombia (National Center for Historical Memory)