A European Union (EU) delegation met with experts and NGOs in Colombia’s capital Bogota on Thursday to seek ideas on how to better protects displaced Colombians seeking land restitution, according the Spanish news agency EFE.
The conference organized by the Europeans included some 60 national and international experts from various human rights and victims groups who provided their input on strategies to defend the rights the millions of displaced people in Colombia.
The EU delegation intends to present the ideas in a Friday meeting with the administration of President Santos, according the delegation head Ivo Hoefkens.
“Land ownership is central to the Colombian conflict. That is why we want to focus on it today, and all the input that can be provided by these organizations that work on the topic are going to serve for the high-level dialogue we will have [Friday] with the government,” Hoefkens said.
Carlos Paez Diaz, coordinator of the Land and Life Association in the conflict-ridden state of Uraba, said he was able to show the delegation that there is an “inconsistency” in what government officials say about land restitution and what victims say.
“The task with the EU delegation’s visit to Uraba was to be able to demonstrate how slow the restitution process is. [Hoefkens] was able to see clearly the way people here have come to not expect restitution,” Diaz said.
President Santos passed he Victims and Land Restitution Law in June 2011 hoping 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.
Since the 2011 law was passed, some 1,450 properties belonging to 10,500 families have been handed back to their owners, according to the government. That land amounts to around 200,000 acres.
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, nearly 5 million people have been internally displaced within Colombia, including 150,000 in 2012 alone.
The UN says some 15,000 people are still displaced every month.
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.