“If Colombia does not take further action to stop the [death threats, intimidation, and killing], the problem [facing Colombia’s displaced] is likely to get much worse,” said the Human Rights Watch in a report released Tuesday.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international NGO dedicated to preserving and protecting human rights across the world, released a report of an investigation almost two years in the making about Colombia’s internally displaced population and their journey back to their homelands.
The investigation included interviews with 250 Colombians who are either displaced and are now trying to fight for their land back, or public officials linked to the issue.
The testimonies revealed that throughout efforts to return to their homes and reclaim their property, these displaced citizens have been abused due to incidents of death threats, intimidation, and murder.
Since 1985, 4.8 million Colombians have been displaced from their homes generating the worlds largest population of internally displaced people according to HRW. These displaced Colombians have had to abandon an estimated six hectares of land, much of which various armed groups still hold captive. These lands and properties in question can be found in the Departments of Antioquia, Bolivar, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, La Guajira, Sucre, Tolima, and even in parts of Bogota, Colombia’s capital city.
According to the Americas director at HRW, Jose Vivanco, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has made a serious and unprecedented effort to return land, especially with the support and crafting of the ‘Victims Compensation Law,’ which took effect last year.
Vivanco adds, “But violence and intimidation against displaced families attempting to return home threaten to sabotage his banner human rights initiative…Unless Colombia starts to ensure justice for abuses against land claimants, they will continue to be killed, threatened, and displaced for seeking to reclaim what’s theirs.”
HWR has documented 17 cases of killings resulting in 21 deaths of land claimants and displacement leaders since 2008. The report also documented 80 cases in which victims have received extreme threats for trying to regain their land, and 30 cases of displaced citizens who had reclaimed their property, but then been intimidated into fleeing once again.
The Attorney General’s office however asserted that closer to 56 people have been murdered in these conflicts. There have also been some 500 reported threats from citizens trying to reacquire their land according. According to the government, there are 360 such claimants that are designated as ‘extreme risks’ for attacks.
Vivanco becomes adamant in this case: “The ongoing threats and attacks are entirely predictable given Colombia’s chronic failure to deliver justice for both current and past abuses against displaced land claimants.”
The HRW director of the Americas added that, “Prosecutors have not charged a single suspect in any of their investigations into threats against displaced land claimants and leaders in retaliation for their restitution efforts.”
HRW emphasized the lack of lack of prosecutions against assailants relative to the number of pending investigations: over 17,000 open investigations by the prosecutor of these issues, and fewer than one percent of these have led to a conviction.
HRW characterizes this as a “lack of justice” and asserted that there are likely citizens who are not coming forward because they’ve given up on a system that will protect them.
While HRW admits that there have been efforts made for protection such as the increase of body guards and the distribution of bullet proof vests, the organization believes these measures to be purely “palliative” as those measures do not stop paramilitary groups or rebel groups or the mafia from continuing to intimidate and threaten.
As of July, just one family has had their land and home completely restored to them due to government aid, restitution, and the “Victims Compensation Law.”
Through this report, HRW is calling upon Colombia to “work with land restitution authorities to vigorously pursue crimes against displaced land claimants in areas where restitution is being carried out,” and to “improve efforts to dismantle paramilitary successor groups, especially by rooting out their corrupt ties to local officials in certain regions.”
The Human Rights Watch offered these short facts that accompanied the press release.
- 4,866,844 Colombians have been displace from their homes between 1985 and August
- 360,000 restitution claims the government estimates that it will process by 2021
- 43,590 land restitution claims filed as of June 30
- 8,477 land restitution claims that are being examined by Restitutions Department
- 446 land restitution claims filed that have resulted in rulings in favor of the victims as of June 30
- 1 family has returned to live on their land as a result of the Victims Compensation Law