A letter to Colombia’s President signed by five Colombian NGOs has condemned the land restitution law for containing bureaucratic hurdles which has effectively prevented thousands of displaced families from regaining their livelihoods.
“Excessive requirements, paperwork, procedures, and high standards of documentation make enforcement of the law innocuous and ineffective and make the return of lands to the dispossessed untenable,” the letter claimed.
A recent addition to the land restitution law requires claimants to acquire the written authorization of the current owners of the property – who may well be those who usurped the land – for a topographical survey of the disputed land. The survey is a necessary piece of evidence in the reclamation process.
“The country is losing its farmers,” said Luis Sanabria in an interview with Colombia Reports. “The people who displace the farmers are the ones who benefit from this law.”
The Victims and Land Restitution Law was passed by President Juan Manuel Santos in June 2011 with much hope that 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 supervise the return over 4.9 million acres of land to its rightful owners.
Of 34,000 land claims filed before the government by displaced Colombians just 24 cases have been settled by the “Land Judges,” according to the NGOs.
“At this rate the goals of the national government for the restitution of land will not be achieved,” the letter claimed.
The Latin American Working Group and Lutheran World Relief visited Colombia in June 2012 to observe if the Victim and Land Restitution Law was starting to bring relief to displaced people in the Caribbean area, but found that little had changed since their visit the previous year.
“Despite the shining promises of the Victims’ Law, we found … that land restitution has not begun on the Caribbean coast, except for cases in which brave and organized displaced communities decided to return on their own,” the organizations said in a report.
According to LAWG executive director Lisa Haugaard, people still live in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in an area that for years has been ravaged by internal conflict, and controlled by paramilitaries and drug-traffickers, both economically and politically.
Jesus Alberto Franco, a priest and land rights advocate from the Colombian NGO, Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP), has accused associates of former president Alvaro Uribe of blocking land restitution, particularly those who have pending investigations against them for links to paramilitaries. In February, Franco’s car was shot at in what his organization calls an act of intimidation.
“There are economic reasons [for blocking land restitution], to do with control of resources,” he told Colombia Reports. “And the other reason is the protection of those who are scared of evidence being found of what happened. When I say people of Uribe’s entourage, I mean those people being investigated for ties to paramilitaries.”
Franco stated unequivocally that the motivations for blocking land restitution are rooted in paramilitarism. Unimpressed with the government’s attempted demobilization of the paramilitaries, the CIJP think that the same groups – now called neo-paramilitaries or Bacrim – are still pursuing the same goals on behalf of wealthy landowners, many of whom use the land stolen during the conflict to grow palm oil and other plantation crops.
- Interview with Luis Sanabria of Redepaz
- The letter to Santos (Redepaz)
- Ley de Restitucion de Tierras recibe criticas de las organizaciones de Derechos Humanos (W Radio)
- Unidad de Restitucion de Tierras se inventa un nuevo tramite (IPC)