The Colombian government Tuesday presented a bill, coined the Land Restitution Law, before Congress that seeks to return land to farmers displaced by the Andean nation’s internal conflict.
Colombian Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Juan Camilo Restrepo said that “the goal is to return 500,000 hectares of land to Colombians who were kicked off it by criminals of all kinds” each year, over a four year period.
Restrepo and Minister for the Interior German Vargas Lleras are the key promoters of the initiative, which makes up part of the Comprehensive Land Policy of the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos.
Restrepo said that the principal focus of the bill is the creation of a registry of displaced citizens and their entitlements, in order to map out the land and the families affected.
The initiative also proposes a mechanism to make it easier for victims to make claims. For example, under the new legislation people stripped of their land by illegal armed groups would not have the burden of proof in demonstrating land ownership, as is presently the case. Instead the bill would permit the judge examining the case to establish if petitioners had been forcibly pressured to leave their land.
The bill also seeks to define the crimes of “dispossesion” and of acting as a frontman for someone who has illegally obtained land. It also proposes that the responsibility for land restitution be distributed between the national government and the judiciary.
Another of the initiative’s proposals is that a National Formalization Program be created with the aim of simplifying land ownership applications and settlements.
Overall, Restrepo said, the bill will speed up legal processes for displaced people so that they can return as quickly as possible to their land.
More than four million Colombians are believed to have been displaced by their nation’s 50 year internal conflict. Most of Colombia’s internal refugees were forced from their land by violence from guerrillas or paramilitary groups.