The Senate passed the 209 articles of the Victims Law in its fourth and final debate on Tuesday night, marking a historic turn of events for victims of violence in Colombia’s longstanding internal armed conflict.
In under two hours, due to consensus between the parties, the plenary Senate, under the direction of Senator Armando Benedetti, approved the text of the new law, providing the country with a new instrument for reparation, restitution and compensation for victims.
Upon approval, Interior and Justice Minister German Vargas Lleras exclaimed that “Today is a frankly historic day!” He added, “This step is an enormous challenge for the government and constitutes the best message that we can send to the international community,” reported newspaper El Tiempo.
Shortly afterwards, President Juan Manuel Santos posted on his Twitter account, “I thank the Congress for the approval of the Victims Law and Land Restitution Law. Historic law. I congratulate those that participated in this process.”
The initiative, led by Senator Juan Fernando Cristo, obtained by a wide margin the majority vote needed, approved by 63 and opposed by 10.
A bloc of Uribista senators who had opposed various articles of the law, including the recognition of an “internal armed conflict” and, most recently, the inclusion of victims of state violence, ended up voting in favor of the law, while certain Polo Democratico senators voted against it on the grounds that it was not inclusive enough.
“I know that this is not the perfect law, but this is a good law and it divides in two the history of this country,” Cristo told W Radio.
The Victims Law aims to provide a legal mechanism by which victims of the violence that has racked Colombia’s modern history may receive some form of compensation, including restitution of land stolen by guerrillas and paramilitaries.
The initiative sank due to disaccord among senators under the administration of former President Alvaro Uribe in 2009, was newly proposed by Santos in fall 2010, and had since been under vigorous debate.