Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Monday presented his Victims Law to the Colombian Congress, a plan which lays out a process of reparation and assistance available to the more than 4 million Colombians affected by the nearly country’s armed conflict.
Victims of violence perpetrated by the guerrillas, paramilitaries and government forces will all be eligible under the law.
“We will not discriminate against any victim,” Santos said, in reference to the absence of compensation for victims of state crimes in previous similar legislation.
The initiative is made up of four points, Santos said in his presentation to Congress. First, victims will receive health and education assistance as well as debt relief. Second, the government will set funds aside for humanitarian assistance in the case of new acts of violence. The third provision will provide restitution to victims, with the intention of returning the land and resources they held before they were victims of violence. The final aspect of the law will see the creation of the National System of Comprehensive Care and Reparation for Victims.
Reparations will include compensation from the administration, and financial support for investment and land acquisition. Money will also be provided to support projects that will allow those displaced by violence to become self-sufficient. Grants and loans for housing will also be provided.
Santos emphasized the comprehensive nature of the law, and the fact that it will include all victims of violence in Colombia. He said all victims should receive compensation within the next 15 years.
“The important thing isn’t who the victims are, but rather to recognize the rights of the victims, wherever they come from, to reparations and a more dignified life,” Santos said. “Even our military and police can receive benefits under the law, in cases where they are not covered by their institutions.”
The president said that the new National System of Comprehensive Care and Reparation for Victims will be overseen by the vice president, in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior and the Social Action program. All government institutions that deal with victim compensation will be involved with the new system, he said.
Victims will not have to wait for a court order to seek compensation for their losses, but will be able to apply directly for aid. All requests will be studied and decided upon by a Judicial Administrative Committee for Reparations, made up of five judges.
“We hope to repair socially, economically, psychologically, and symbolically the nearly four million displaced and victims of other violent crimes,” Santos said. “The fundamental purpose is for victims to be able to reconstruct their lives.”
Santos’ appearance before Congress is unique, as it is custom that ministers attend a session in Congress to defend or explain a government proposal.
The original Victims Law, which included victims of state violence, was originally proposed by the Liberal Party but was not ratified by Congress. An adaptation of the law, excluding victims of state agents, was approved in 2009.