Colombia’s land restitution process is failing to adequately process the return of land to victims of displacement and is now facing severe criticism from both NGOs and political movements.
The Victims and Land Restitution Law (Law 1448) was enacted in 2011 with the chief purpose to reclaim around 8 million illegally stolen hectares, an area larger than Costa Rica, that have been forcefully seized from millions of Colombians since 1985.
However, according to a report from the University of Antioquia and a series of NGOs, “five years have passed and land restitution has not advanced.”
The report entitled “Shaping Fortunes” sought to highlight the major inefficiencies that have plagued the restitution process in Colombia since its inception in 2011.
While the government continues to defend the process stating that it has resolved 32,532 cases of 89,498, the report claims that “only 3.4 per cent of applications have been resolved in court.”
Analyzing the report, Colombian news site “La Silla Vacia” claimed that the report failed to account for almost 20,000 cases that were successfully dealt with, but without a court or tribunal.
Nonetheless, with these considered this puts the successful process of cases at just 22% far short of what is necessary to return land to more than six million people (13% of Colombia’s entire population).
These people whom have been forcibly displaced, mostly by paramilitaries and the security forces, over the course of Colombia’s bloody armed conflict are suffering in exile while bureaucratic inefficiency ravages the land restitution process.
These blatant inefficiencies regarding restitution prompted the left-wing political party Patriotic Union (UP) to pen a letter to Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez slamming the process.
UP chief Aida Avella said she will request that the United Nations intervene and help to investigate the delays and alleged corruption whereby land restitution courts are siding with those who illegally acquired the land in the first place.
In the same paramilitary effort to “refound the nation,” millions were forced of their land while members of Avella’s party were systematically assassinated, leaving thousands dead.
“Victims of the Patriotic Union are outraged, finding that you agree with in the most part, those who have concentrated land in Colombia using violence to seize large tracts of land. Thousands of our members were missing, killed, tortured, imprisoned, displaced and their land in the countryside and intermediate cities were awarded to people who mobilized paramilitarism,” said Avella.
Despite the inefficiencies in relation to the number of the cases being processed, bitter opposition from those now in possession of the lands is slowing the process.
The NGO report highlighted that many of “the competing companies in the judicial processes of land restitution did not prove their good faith.”
This has sparked legal debate between the difference between “good faith” and a “good faith free of guilt.”
According to the Constitutional Court, good faith is to have the consciousness of having acted properly while good faith free of guilt also requires “the presence of a behavior aimed to verify the regularity of the situation.”
For example, Colombia’s largest cement company, Argos SA, was deemed to have proven that it acted in good faith when buying stolen land, in the sense that it did not have anything to do with the taking of lands but did not demonstrate that it had been diligent enough to trace the chain of ownership of them before buying.
In that case, it did not prove its good faith free of guilt.
While the process that began in 2011 rumbles on, littered with inefficiency and legal debate, the fate of Colombia’s millions of displaced remains open.
As Colombia’s government finalize a peace deal with the country’s largest left-wing group the FARC and prepare to enter peace talks with their smaller counterparts the ELN, solving the land restitution fiasco has been identified as essential for the process in the South American country.
Then, during the ceremony commemorating the National Day of the Victims of Conflict, on 9 April, President Juan Manuel Santos stated the need to put differences aside and advance the process.
“The land restitution is a matter of elementary justice and should not be used to divide the country and sow fear,” said Santos.